Welsh Labour

Welsh Labour (Welsh: Llafur Cymru) is the branch of the United Kingdom Labour Party in Wales, where it is the largest political party in modern Welsh politics. Welsh Labour and its forebears have won the biggest share of the Welsh vote at every UK general election since 1922, Senedd election since 1999, and European Parliament election from 1979 until 2004 and in 2014.[6] Welsh Labour holds 22 of the 40 Welsh seats in the UK Parliament, 30 of the 60 seats in the Welsh Senedd and 576 of the 1,264 councillors in principal local authorities, including overall control of 10 of the 22.

Welsh Labour
Llafur Cymru
LeaderMark Drakeford
Deputy LeaderCarolyn Harris
General SecretaryLouise Magee
Headquarters1 Cathedral Road
CF11 9HA
Student wingWelsh Labour Students
Membership (2018)25,000[1] [needs update]
Political positionCentre-left
European affiliationParty of European Socialists
International affiliationProgressive Alliance
Socialist International (observer)
UK Parliament affiliationLabour Party (UK)
Cooperate with but independent from the Social Democratic and Labour Party
Colours  Red
House of Commons
22 / 40
(Welsh seats)
30 / 60
Local government in Wales[5]
454 / 1,253
Police and Crime Commissioners
3 / 4
www.welshlabour.wales Edit this at Wikidata


Welsh Labour is formally part of the Labour Party, not separately registered with the Electoral Commission under the terms of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act.[7] In 2016, the Labour Party Conference voted to institute the office of leader of Welsh Labour, which is what Mark Drakeford now is.[8] Welsh Labour has autonomy in policy formulation for the 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 contains representatives of 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). All Wales's 40 CLPs are registered as accounting units with the Electoral Commission.[9]

Welsh Labour headquarters in Cardiff organises the party's election campaigns at all levels of government (Community Councils, Unitary Authorities, the Senedd and Westminster, supports the CLPs and branches in membership matters and performs secretarial functions for the National Assembly Labour Party (NALP) and the party's policy-making process. It also organises the annual conference – the sovereign decision-making body of the party in Wales – provides legal and constitutional advice and arbitrate on certain disciplinary matters.



Keir Hardie, the first leader of the Independent Labour Party, was elected as member for Merthyr Tydfil in 1900. When the National Union of Mineworkers affiliated to the party in 1908, their four sponsored Welsh MPs became Labour MPs.[10] Over the next few years there was a steady rise in the number of Labour councillors and MPs in Wales, and in 1922 Labour won half the Welsh parliamentary seats – setting the scene for its hegemony in Welsh politics over subsequent decades.[10]

Efforts were made as early as 1911 to establish a Welsh version of the Independent Labour Party. Not until May 1947, with the merger of the South Wales Regional Council of Labour and the constituency parties of north and mid-Wales was an all-Wales unit of the Labour Party formed, initially called the 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 new body reflected a consolidation of industrial and trade-union power under Clement Attlee's 1945–1951 government. The depression of the 1930s had hit Welsh industry particularly hard, leading Labour to propose that the Welsh economy be planned and structured on a national basis. An all-Wales party structure was created accordingly. However, the commensurate changes in the machinery of government did not ensue until much later, reflecting a persistent ambivalence within Labour on "the National question".

Welsh Labour's predecessors bequeathed it a formidable electoral inheritance on which to build. The 1945 General Election won the party 25 of the 36 Welsh constituencies, gaining some 58 per cent of the popular vote. Despite swings away from Labour in the 1950 and 1951 general elections in Britain as a whole, Welsh Labour gained seats and vote share by 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 had remained strong.


Though Labour remained in opposition after 1951, Welsh Labour polled over 50 per cent of the popular vote at each general election, winning seemingly impregnable majorities in the valleys of south Wales. Aneurin Bevan, for example, was routinely returned for Ebbw Vale with 80 per cent of the vote. The pattern was similar in some 15 other seats in the region. Welsh Labour showed by its actions in local government and proposals for central government to be a modernising party committed to investing in infrastructure and serious about providing jobs and improving public services.[11]


In the 1964 general election Welsh Labour polled some 58 per cent of the Welsh vote and won 28 seats. The Wilson government gave Welsh Labour the chance to enact its 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 hegemony seemed set to continue into the 1960s. At the 1966 General Election Welsh Labour's share topped 60 per cent, gaining all but four of Wales's 36 parliamentary constituencies.

Within three months, however, Gwynfor Evans sensationally captured Carmarthen for Plaid Cymru at a by-election and his party came close to victory at the 1967 Rhondda West and 1968 Caerphilly by-elections, achieving swings against Labour of 30 and 40 per cent respectively.


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

Plaid Cymru's threat in the industrial heartland fell away in the 1970s, but it and the Conservatives gained ground in Welsh-speaking and coastal Wales respectively, where Labour's roots were shallower. By the 1979 General Election, Welsh Labour held 22 of the 36 parliamentary seats, albeit with a 48 per cent share of the vote.


This relative decline was eclipsed by a dramatic fall in Labour support at the 1983 General Election. In contrast to the 1950s, the swing against Labour in Britain was matched in Wales, where 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 compounded by a strong SDP-Liberal Alliance performance, gaining 23 per cent of the vote, though few seats, at what was to be the height of its success.

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


However, Conservative policy in Wales could be said to have helped to break the traditional compact between Welsh Labour and the Welsh electorate. The party was ineffective when faced with the psychological trauma of restructuring and de-industrialising the Welsh economy. Meanwhile, the seemingly perpetual Conservative rule, based on its electoral power outside Wales, reignited debate within Welsh Labour on devolution.[12]

Under John Smith, Labour committed itself to devolution for Wales and Scotland, a commitment that survived his early death. By 1997, 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 (from 1999)Edit

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 seats as Islwyn, Llanelli and Rhondda, though still winning the largest number. In the run-up, the party nominee for First Secretary, Ron Davies, had been forced to resign over an alleged sex scandal. His replacement, Alun Michael, as Secretary of State for Wales, was seen as a reluctant participant, despite an equivalent commitment to Welsh devolution and being spoken of as a candidate for the UK leadership of the Labour Party. Labour in Wales 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 2.5 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 fell away, due partly to replacement in 2000 of Alun Michael by Rhodri Morgan. Under Morgan's leadership, a coalition was formed with the Liberal Democrats that arguably brought some stability to the administration. By 2003 Labour's share had risen to 40 per cent on a marginally increased turnout and the party gained 30 seats overall, allowing it to govern alone again. In the 2005 General Election, the party's share fell back to 43 per cent (29 seats), with the Conservatives regaining a Welsh Parliamentary foothold.

Rhodri Morgan's administration emphasised a difference in approach to public service provision from Tony Blair's government. This collaborative approach contrasted with the Blair government's focus on introducing competition in public services, which Morgan argued placed insufficient emphasis on equality of outcome.[13] 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 initiatives in Wales included free school breakfasts, free access to swimming pools for children in school holidays, and abolition of medical prescription fees.[14] However, the party faced criticism for seemingly backing away from a manifesto commitment to scrap home-care charges for the disabled.

In the 2007 elections Welsh Labour's share of the vote fell to 32.2 per cent, its second lowest since the UK General Election of 1923. Its seat number fell by four to 26: 11 more than the second largest party, Plaid Cymru. On 25 May Rhodri Morgan was again nominated as First Minister. On 27 June, Morgan concluded the One Wales agreement with Plaid Cymru, which was approved by Labour rank and file on 6 July. On 1 December 2009, Carwyn Jones became the new leader of Welsh Labour.[15]

In March 2010 Welsh Labour twice refused to cross the PCS union picket line, Carwyn Jones arguing that this refusal was ingrained in Labour's thinking. It led to strong criticism for not doing so from the Welsh Conservative Party and the Welsh Liberal Democrats.[16]

On 6 May 2016 Welsh Labour won 29 of the 60 seats in the Assembly elections and secured a fifth term in government, in a minority coalition with the sole remaining Welsh Liberal Democrat member, Kirsty Williams. In 2017 cabinet was reshuffled with Dafydd Elis-Thomas joining it. In the 2021 Senedd election, Welsh Labour's share of the vote rose by about 5 per cent and the party won half the seats in the Senedd, equalling its best-ever result in 2003.[17][18]

Electoral performanceEdit

In recent years there has been some decline for Labour in Wales. 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 were repeated across the UK, the Conservatives would have won a landslide victory of over 100 seats; in some, such as Pontypridd, Welsh Labour lost over 16 per cent of its vote. In the 2011 Welsh Assembly elections, Labour regained half 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. The 2015 general election saw labour achieve its second lowest vote share in Wales during the Post-World War II era.

In the 2017 general election, the decline in parliamentary elections was reversed – Labour raised its vote share to 48.9 per cent, its highest in a general election in Wales since 1997, winning 28 of the 40 Welsh seats in Westminster. However, the 2019 general election saw the party again achieve a fairly poor result by historic standards. Contrastingly, the 2021 Senedd election saw the party match its best ever result at a devolved election and almost its best ever vote share.

House of CommonsEdit

Election Wales +/–
% Seats
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
Feb 1974 46.8
24 / 36
Oct 1974 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.


Election Constituency Regional Total seats +/– Government
Votes % Seats Votes % Seats
1999 384,671 37.6
27 / 40
361,657 35.5
1 / 20
28 / 60
2003 340,515 40.0
30 / 40
310,658 36.6
0 / 20
30 / 60
  2 Minority
2007 314,925 32.2
24 / 40
288,954 29.7
2 / 20
26 / 60
  4 Lab–Plaid
2011 401,677 42.3
28 / 40
349,935 36.9
2 / 20
30 / 60
  4 Minority
2016 353,866 34.7
27 / 40
319,196 31.5
2 / 20
29 / 60
  1 Lab–LD
2021 443,047 39.9
27 / 40
401,770 36.2
3 / 20
30 / 60
  1 Minority

European ParliamentEdit

Election Wales +/–
% Seats
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


Year Votes Share of votes Seats won
1995 404,013 43.6%
726 / 1,272
1999 338,470 34.4%
563 / 1,270
2004 278,193 30.6%
479 / 1,263
2008 253,029 26.6%
345 / 1,270
2012* 304,466 35.6%
577 / 1,235
2017 294,989 30.4%
468 / 1,271


House of LordsEdit

There are currently 14 Labour Members in the House of Lords from Wales, excluding Baroness Morgan of Ely, who is currently on leave of absence.[19]

No. Name Date Ennobled
1. Lord Anderson of Swansea 2005
2. Baroness Gale 1999
3. Lord Griffiths of Burry Port 2004
4. Lord Kinnock 2005
5. Lord Jones 2001
6. Lord Hain 2015
7. Lord Howarth of Newport 2005
8. Baroness Jones of Whitchurch 2006
9. Lord Morgan 2000
10. Lord Morris of Aberavon 2001
11. Lord Murphy of Torfaen 2015
12. Lord Rowlands 2004
13. Lord Touhig 2010
14. Baroness Wilcox of Newport 2019

Elected leadersEdit

Portrait Leader From To
1   Ron Davies 19 September 1998[20] 29 October 1998
2   Alun Michael 20 February 1999 9 February 2000
3   Rhodri Morgan 9 February 2000 1 December 2009
4   Carwyn Jones 1 December 2009 6 December 2018
5   Mark Drakeford 7 December 2018 Incumbent

Elected deputy leadersEdit

No. Image Name Term start Term end
1   Carolyn Harris 21 April 2018 Incumbent

General secretariesEdit

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. ^ Ian Adams, 1998. Ideology and Politics in Britain Today (illustrated reprint ed.), Manchester University Press. pp. 144–145. ISBN 9780719050565. Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Standing up for Wales - Welsh Labour Manifesto 2019" (PDF). Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  5. ^ "Open Council Data UK - compositions councillors parties wards elections". www.opencouncildata.co.uk. Retrieved 24 October 2019.
  6. ^ B. Jones, Welsh Elections 1885–1997 (1999), Lolfa. 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).
  7. ^ "www.electoralcommission.org.uk/regulatory-issues/regpoliticalparties.cfm?frmGB=1&frmPartyID=6&frmType=partydetail". electoralcommission.org.uk. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  8. ^ "Labour backs more autonomy for Welsh party | Wales – ITV News". itv.com. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  9. ^ "www.electoralcommission.org.uk/regulatory-issues/regpoliticalparties.cfm?frmPartyID=6&frmType=audetail". electoralcommission.org.uk. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
  10. ^ a b The Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press 2008
  11. ^ A. Walling, "The Structure of Power in Labour Wales 1951–1964". The Labour Party in Wales 1900-200, ed. D. Tanner, C. Williams and D. Hopkin, 2000, University of Wales Press.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ "AMs vote for free prescriptions". BBC News. 23 January 2007. Retrieved 8 May 2015.
  15. ^ "BBC News - Jones is new Welsh Labour leader". Retrieved 8 May 2015.
  16. ^ "BBC News - Labour, Plaid AMs to miss debate due to picket line". Retrieved 8 May 2015.
  17. ^ Hayes, Georgina (8 May 2021). "Wales election: Labour equals its best-ever Senedd result by winning 30 seats". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  18. ^ Mosalski, Ruth (11 May 2021). "Labour wins half the seats in the Welsh Parliament". WalesOnline. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  19. ^ [1]
  20. ^ "Davies beats off backbench challenge". BBC News. 19 September 1998. Retrieved 2 November 2018.

External linksEdit