Reviewed by David Moon in Renewal: a Journal of Labour Politics, 2009
Clear Red Water is a valuable publication, highly recommended for student, politician and activist alike. It is also a political book in the most engaged sense of the term: a mix of history text, policy outline and political polemic. Less an academic manuscript, this is more a resource for reminding, illustrating and educating readers as to what its authors see as the important gains and individual policies of Welsh Labour under Rhodri Morgan in the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) - denoted, shorthand, in the 'clear red water' of the title.
Readers outside of Wales should be clear, however, that while Davies and Williams' described purpose is to 'make the case for a democratic socialist agenda in Welsh politics today' (and in so doing, shoring up Morgan's policy approach in the face of his imminent departure), theirs is a book aimed at those within the party in Wales and without. That also resolutely includes those across the border: spreading the news from Wales to their comrades in the wider British labour movement is clearly an important aim - telling a story, as they see it, of other possibilities, socialist successes and refutations of that favourite New Labour notion that 'there is no alternative'.
Significantly, while the authors position themselves as 'critical friends of the Welsh Labour leadership', in this latter aim they're seeking to bypass this same, reticent leadership. The muted public acknowledgement by Morgan and his ministers of their policy differences with Labour's leadership in London and the usual explanations 'in purely pragmatic terms, related to the distinct culture or geography of Wales' are noted with disappointment. Welsh Labour's post-devolution policies are instead presented here as offering a rallying point against what is labelled 'the increasingly reactionary agenda of Tony Blair'; as 'a progressive alternative with which one could engage positively' so as to make 'the case for a more thoroughgoing socialist agenda'.
On the specific topic of Welsh Labour, Davies and Williams are emphatically nof muted, both in criticism and praise for the Party. Yet there is an inherent tension, recognisable but unformulated, within this book; a tension moreover which exists within Welsh Labour itself. This tension has to do with the very nature of the titular 'clear red water' - that key signifier of ideological difference between Labour in Wales and England - and all which it envelopes.