Welsh Labour

Labour Party (UK) Arthur Henderson Plaid Cymru
Welsh Labour

Llafur Cymru
LeaderMark Drakeford MS
Deputy LeaderCarolyn Harris MP
General SecretaryLouise Magee
Headquarters1 Cathedral Road
CF11 9HA
Student wingWelsh Labour Students
Membership (2018)25,000[1]
IdeologySocial democracy[2]
Democratic socialism[3]

British unionism[4]
Political positionCentre-left
National affiliationLabour Party (UK)
European affiliationParty of European Socialists
International affiliationProgressive Alliance
Socialist International (observer)
House of Commons
22 / 40
(Welsh seats)
Senedd Cymru
29 / 60
Local government in Wales[6]
454 / 1,253
Police and Crime Commissioners
2 / 4

Welsh Labour (Welsh: Llafur Cymru) is the branch of the federal United Kingdom Labour Party that operates in Wales. It is the largest and most successful political party in modern Welsh politics. With its predecessor organisations, it has won the biggest share of the vote at every UK General Election since 1922, every Assembly election since 1999, and each European Parliament election from 1979 until 2004, as well as the 2014 one.[7] Welsh Labour holds 22 of 40 Welsh seats in the UK Parliament, 29 of 60 seats in the Senedd, and 576 of 1,264 principal local authority councillors, including overall control of 10 of 22 Welsh local authorities.


Welsh Labour is formally part of the Labour Party. It is neither separately registered with the Electoral Commission under the terms of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act.[8] In 2016, the Labour Party Conference voted for the office of leader of Welsh Labour to exist; as such, Mark Drakeford is now leader of Welsh Labour.[9] Welsh Labour has autonomy in policy formulation for those areas now devolved to the Senedd, and in candidate selection for it. Party objectives are set by the Welsh Executive Committee (WEC), which plays a similar function to the Labour Party's National Executive Committee (NEC) in devolved responsibilities.

The Welsh Executive Committee is made up of representatives from each section of the party - government, MPs, MSs, MEPs, councillors, trade unions and Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs - the basic unit of organisation throughout the Labour Party). Each of Wales's 40 CLPs are registered as accounting units with the Electoral Commission.[10]

The party's headquarters in Cardiff organise the party's election campaigns at all levels of government (Community Councils, Unitary Authorities, the Senedd, Westminster and European Parliament), support the CLPs and branches in membership matters and perform secretarial functions to the National Assembly Labour Party (NALP) and the party's policy-making process. They also organise the annual conference (the sovereign decision-making body of the party), provide legal and constitutional advice, and arbitrate certain disciplinary matters.



Keir Hardie, the first leader of the Independent Labour Party, was elected as member for Merthyr Tydfil in 1900, and when the National Union of Mineworkers affiliated to the party in 1908, their four sponsored Welsh MPs became Labour MPs.[11] Over the next few years there was a steady increase in the number of Labour councillors and MPs in Wales, and in 1922, Labour won half the Welsh parliamentary seats - setting the scene for the party's hegemony in Welsh politics over coming decades.[11]

Efforts were made as early as 1911 to establish a Welsh version of the Independent Labour Party, it was not until May 1947, with the merger of the South Wales Regional Council of Labour and the constituency parties of north and mid Wales, that an all-Wales unit of the Labour Party was formed (as the then Welsh Regional Council of Labour). Among those active in North Wales was David Thomas, who helped to found Caernarfonshire Labour Council in 1912 and the North Wales Labour Council in 1914.

The formation of the new organisation reflected the consolidation of industrial and trade union power under Clement Attlee's 1945–1951 government. The experience of the depression of the 1930s – when Welsh industry was particularly hard hit – had led Labour to develop an alaysis in which the Welsh economy was to be planned and structured on a national basis. An all-Wales party structure was created to reflect this re-alignment. Ironically, the commensurate changes in the machinery of government were not implemented until much later, reflecting a persistent ambivalence within Labour about "the National question".

Welsh Labour's predecessor bodies bequeathed it a formidable electoral inheritance, upon which it was to build still further. In the 1945 General Election the party won 25 of the 36 Welsh constituencies, gaining some 58% of the popular vote. Despite a swing away from Labour in the 1950 and 1951 General Elections in Britain as a whole, Welsh Labour gained both seats and vote share, pursuing a strategy of extending its appeal from its industrial base in the south and north east of Wales into the rural and Welsh speaking areas where the Liberal Party remained strong.


Despite remaining in opposition at Westminster throughout the 1950s, Welsh Labour polled in excess of 50% of the popular vote at each General Election, stacking up apparently impregnable majorities in its south Wales valleys heartlands. Aneurin Bevan, for example, was routinely returned to Parliament with 80% of the vote of his Ebbw Vale constituency, a pattern repeated to a greater or lesser extent in some 15 seats throughout the area. Welsh Labour showed itself, both by its actions in local government and by its proposals for central government to be a practical, modernising party committed to investment in infrastructure, serious about providing jobs and improving public services.[12]


At the 1964 General Election Welsh Labour polled some 58% of the vote and won 28 seats in Wales. The Wilson government gave Welsh Labour the opportunity to enact its long-standing promise (galvanised by the Conservative Party government's appointment of a Minister of Welsh Affairs in the mid-1950s) to create the post of Secretary of State for Wales and a Welsh Office. The pattern of electoral hegemony seemed set to continue into the 1960s. At the 1966 General Election Welsh Labour's share topped 60%, gaining it all but 4 of Wales's 36 Parliamentary constituencies. Within three months, however, Gwynfor Evans sensationally captured Carmarthen for Plaid Cymru at a by-election, and the Nationalists came within a whisker of victory at the 1967 Rhondda West and 1968 Caerphilly by-elections, achieving huge swings against Labour of 30% and 40% respectively.


The emergence of Plaid Cymru (and the Scottish National Party) prompted the Wilson Government to establish the Kilbrandon Commission, leading in turn to Welsh Labour to once more consider the case for devolution - this time coming out in favour. Victory in the February 1974 General Election pushed devolution onto the political agenda, culminating in the decisive vote against a Welsh Assembly in the 1979 referendum.

The Nationalist threat to the party's industrial heartland fell away in the 1970s. However, both Plaid Cymru and (to a greater extent) the Conservatives gained ground in Welsh-speaking and coastal Wales respectively, where Labour's roots were far more shallow. By the 1979 General Election Welsh Labour held 22 of the 36 Parliamentary seats, albeit with a 48 per cent share.


This relative decline was, however, eclipsed by the dramatic collapse in Labour support at the 1983 General Election. In contrast to the 1950s, where a swing against Labour in Britain was not matched in Wales, Welsh voters showed themselves just as unwilling to endorse Michael Foot's markedly more left-wing manifesto. Welsh Labour polled a mere 37.5 per cent of the popular vote, yielding 20 seats. A rampant Conservative Party, by contrast, captured 14 seats (including three of the four Cardiff constituencies) and exceeded 30 per cent of the vote for the second election in succession. Welsh Labour's problems were further compounded by a strong SDP-Liberal Alliance performance, gaining 23 per cent of the vote (albeit to little benefit in terms of seats) at what was to be the height of their success.

The miners' strike of 1984–1985 appeared to present Welsh Labour with an electoral opportunity, despite the invidious position in which the nature of the action placed the new Labour leader, Neil Kinnock. At the 1987 General Election the party polled 45 per cent, winning 24 seats, with a further two from the Conservatives at by elections in 1989 and 1991.


Equally, however, Conservative policy in Wales could also be deemed to have helped break the traditional compact between Welsh Labour and the Welsh electorate. On the one hand, the party was shown to be ineffective in the face of the psychologically traumatic restructuring (and de-industrialisation) of the Welsh economy. On the other, seemingly perpetual Conservative rule, on the basis of their electoral power outside Wales, re-ignited debate within Welsh Labour about devolution.[13]

Under John Smith, Labour committed itself to devolution for both Wales and Scotland, a commitment that survived his early death. By 1997, when Welsh Labour captured 34 of Wales's 40 seats, wiping out the Conservatives' Welsh representation and polling 55 per cent, the stage was set for another devolution referendum, this time won by the narrowest of margins.

Devolution era (1999–)

Less than two years later, at the first elections to the new Welsh Assembly, Labour was again humbled in its heartlands by Plaid Cymru, losing such totemic seats as Islwyn, Llanelli and Rhondda (but nevertheless winning the largest number of seats). In the run-up to the elections, the party's nominee for First Secretary, Ron Davies had been forced to resign amid an alleged sex scandal. His replacement, Alun Michael, the new Secretary of State for Wales, was seen as a reluctant participant despite also having a longstanding commitment to Welsh devolution, and was widely seen as being the choice of the UK leadership of the Labour Party. Labour won 28 of the 60 seats (20 being allocated via the Additional Member System) on 37 per cent of the vote and a month later came within two and a half percentage points of being pushed into second place for popular share by Plaid Cymru in elections to the European Parliament.

Rhodri Morgan campaigning in 2003 against the introduction of top-up fees for university students – a Labour policy at Westminster

As in the 1970s, the Nationalist challenge then fell away, due in part to the replacement in 2000 of Alun Michael with Rhodri Morgan. Under Morgan's leadership, a coalition was formed with the Liberal Democrats that arguably brought a degree of stability to the administration. By 2003 Labour's share had increased to 40 per cent (on a marginally increased turnout) and the party gained 30 seats overall, allowing it to govern alone once more. In the 2005 General Election, the party's share fell back to 43 per cent or 29 seats, with the Conservatives regaining a Parliamentary foothold in Wales.

Rhodri Morgan's administration emphasised the difference in approach to public service provision between itself and that of Tony Blair's government. Morgan contrasted his administration's collaborative approach with that of the Blair government's focus on the introduction of competition in public services, an approach which Morgan argued placed insufficient emphasis on equality of outcome.[14] In practice, this meant foregoing many policies of the Westminster Labour government such as Foundation Hospitals, school academies and PFI projects in some areas. Other noted policy initiatives included the introduction of free school breakfasts, free access to swimming pools for children during school holidays and the abolition of prescription fees.[15] However, the party faced strong criticism for appearing to resile from its manifesto commitment to scrap home care charges for people with disabilities.

In the 2007 elections Welsh Labour's share of the vote fell to 32.2%, the second lowest share for the party in any Wales-wide polls since the UK General Election of 1923, and its number of seats fell by four (on 2003) to 26, 11 more than the second largest party, Plaid Cymru. On 25 May Rhodri Morgan was nominated as First Minister once again. On 27 June, Morgan concluded the One Wales agreement with Plaid Cymru, and it was later approved by the Labour party rank and file on 6 July. On 1 December 2009, Carwyn Jones was elected the new leader of Welsh Labour.[16]

In March 2010 the Welsh Labour Party twice refused to cross the PCS union picket line, Carwyn Jones citing that it was ingrained in Labour's thinking not to cross a picket line. This led to strong criticism of the government for not crossing the picket line from the Welsh Conservative Party and the Welsh Liberal Democrats.[17]

On 6 May 2016 Welsh Labour won 29 out of the 60 seats in the Assembly elections and secured a 5th term in government in a minority coalition with the sole remaining Welsh Liberal Democrat Kirsty Williams AM.

Electoral performance

In recent years there has been a decline in Labour in Wales to a certain extent. For the first time since 1918, the Conservatives came first in an election in Wales (the 2009 European Parliament election) and in the 2010 general election Labour had its worst general election result in Wales in its history. If the swing in Wales was repeated on a uniform basis across the UK the Conservatives would have won a landslide victory of over 100 seats; in some seats such as Pontypridd, Welsh Labour lost over 16 per cent of its vote. In the 2011 Welsh Assembly elections, Labour made gains, and won half of the seats in the National Assembly. In the 2014 European Parliament elections, Labour topped the poll in Wales, with a swing of 7.9 percentage points.

In the 2017 general election, the decline in Parliamentary elections was reversed – Labour increased its vote share to 48.9 per cent, its highest at a general election in Wales since 1997, winning 28 of the 40 Welsh seats in Westminster.

European Parliament elections

Year Percentage of votes Seats won
1979 41.5%
3 / 4
1984 44.5%
3 / 4
1989 48.9%
4 / 4
1994 55.9%
5 / 5
1999 31.8%
2 / 5
2004 32.5%
2 / 4
2009 20.3%
1 / 4
2014 28.1%
1 / 4
2019 15.3%
1 / 4

UK general elections

Year Percentage of votes Seats won
1945 58.5%
25 / 35
1950 58.1%
27 / 36
1951 60.5%
27 / 36
1955 57.6%
27 / 36
1959 56.4%
27 / 36
1964 57.8%
28 / 36
1966 60.7%
32 / 36
1970 51.6%
27 / 36
1974 (Feb) 46.8%
24 / 36
1974 (Oct) 49.5%
23 / 36
1979* 48.6%
22 / 36
1983 37.5%
20 / 38
1987 45.1%
24 / 38
1992 49.5%
27 / 38
1997 54.8%
34 / 40
2001 48.6%
34 / 40
2005 42.7%
29 / 40
2010 36.3%
26 / 40
2015 37.1%
25 / 40
2017 48.9%
28 / 40
2019 40.9%
22 / 40

* Includes the Speaker.

Senedd elections

Year Percentage of votes Seats won Government
Constituencies Regional lists Constituencies Regional top-up seats Total
1999 37.6% 35.5%
27 / 40
1 / 20
28 / 60
2003 40.0% 36.6%
30 / 40
0 / 20
30 / 60
2007 32.2% 29.7%
24 / 40
2 / 20
26 / 60
2011 42.3% 36.9%
28 / 40
2 / 20
30 / 60
2016 34.7% 31.5%
27 / 40
2 / 20
29 / 60

Elected leaders

Leader From To
1 Ron Davies 1998[18] 1999
2 Alun Michael 1999 2000
3 Rhodri Morgan 2000 2009
4 Carwyn Jones 2009 2018
5 Mark Drakeford 2018

Elected deputy leaders

Leader From To
1 Carolyn Harris 2018

General secretaries

1947: Cliff Prothero
1965: Emrys Jones
1979: Hubert Morgan
1984: Anita Gale
1999: Jessica Morden
2005: Chris Roberts
2010: David Hagendyk
2017: Louise Magee


  1. ^ Davies, Daniel (9 November 2018). "Welsh Labour leadership: Do people know the candidates?". BBC News Online.
  2. ^ Nordsieck, Wolfram (2016). "Wales/UK". Parties and Elections in Europe. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  3. ^ dams, Ian (1998). Ideology and Politics in Britain Today (illustrated, reprint ed.). Manchester University Press. pp. 144–145. ISBN 9780719050565. Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  4. ^ "Standing up for Wales - Welsh Labour Manifesto 2019" (PDF). Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  5. ^ "Standing up for Wales - Welsh Labour Manifesto 2019" (PDF). Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  6. ^ "Open Council Data UK - compositions councillors parties wards elections". www.opencouncildata.co.uk. Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  7. ^ B. Jones, Welsh Elections 1885–1997 (1999), Lolfa. See also UK 2001 General Election results by region, UK 2005 General Election results by region, 1999 Welsh Assembly election results, 2003 Welsh Assembly election results and 2004 European Parliament election results in Wales (BBC).
  8. ^ "www.electoralcommission.org.uk/regulatory-issues/regpoliticalparties.cfm?frmGB=1&frmPartyID=6&frmType=partydetail". electoralcommission.org.uk. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  9. ^ "Labour backs more autonomy for Welsh party | Wales – ITV News". itv.com. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  10. ^ "www.electoralcommission.org.uk/regulatory-issues/regpoliticalparties.cfm?frmPartyID=6&frmType=audetail". electoralcommission.org.uk. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  11. ^ a b The Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press 2008
  12. ^ A. Walling, "The Structure of Power in Labour Wales 1951–1964" in The Labour Party in Wales 1900-200, ed. D. Tanner, C. Williams and D. Hopkin, 2000, University of Wales Press.
  13. ^ D. Tanner, "Facing the New Challenge: Labour and Politics 1970–2000", The Labour Party in Wales 1900–2000, ed. D. Tanner, C. Williams and D. Hopkin, 2000, University of Wales Press.
  14. ^ Speech by Rhodri Morgan, "Public Services: Looking to the future for Wales", 7 October 2004. See also Speech to the National Centre for Public Policy, University of Wales Swansea, December 2002
  15. ^ "BBC NEWS - UK - Wales - AMs vote for free prescriptions". Retrieved 8 May 2015.
  16. ^ "BBC News - Jones is new Welsh Labour leader". Retrieved 8 May 2015.
  17. ^ "BBC News - Labour, Plaid AMs to miss debate due to picket line". Retrieved 8 May 2015.
  18. ^ "BBC News - Davies beats off backbench challenge". Retrieved 2 November 2018.