Keir Starmer's appearance on Piers Morgan's Life Stories last night has been widely publicised. 

Talking about his family, his time as head of the Crown Prosecution Service, and his love for football, Sir Keir was finally getting the platform and audience he has craved since becoming Labour leader. 

Bruised from his party's electoral failings in England on May 6, he welcomed the opportunity for a national audience on his terms. 

The publicity also seemed to work. If you had headed to the BBC's homepage this morning, there he was: front and centre. 

Yet, one thing was ommitted from the programme: any mention of Wales; a country where Labour had a rather good day in comparison to the UK party he runs.

You could say that is not a surprise, he was there to appeal to voters in England that the Tories seem to have a monopoly over. 

However, a cynic may argue that it is odd Sir Keir does not refer to the success of Welsh Labour more often. 

He has been to Wales since May 6, visiting last week. While welcoming Sir Keir, Welsh Labour's leader Mark Drakeford told The Mirror: "We are authentically Labour, we make an offer that is true to the values, traditions, histories of the Labour Party in Wales.”

He was referring to why Labour did so well in Wales, while Labour spluttered and stuttered in England. 

Divergence in success

For Dr Nye Davies of Cardiff University, part of the reason Labour does so well in Wales is because of the party's willingness to embrace and celebrate its history.

“The amount of times Welsh politicians will reference Aneurin Bevan, or Keir Hardy, they play on the past so much," he told The National.

"The benefit the party has here is they can position themselves in a couple of different ways.

"They can position themselves as the defenders of left wing politics in Wales, as well as as a defender of Wales’ interests.

"When he was Labour leader, Rhodri Morgan distanced himself from Tony Blair, and since 2010, it has become even easier, because you can present yourself as a Welsh opposition to the UK government.

"The big thing for Drakeford is the pandemic and how it has really increased his profile and the image of him doing things differently to Westminster.

"Starmer is struggling to push through in the UK, offering constructive criticism to the government."


Divergence in politics

Labour was the architect of devolution when it delivered referenda in Scotland and Wales in 1997. 

However, with 22 years of political divergence now behind us, the UK's landscape now causes more than a couple of headaches for the UK party.

“In a way, devolution has caused problems for the Labour Party. It is now in a very difficult position and they are fighting on a lot of different fronts," continued Dr Davies. 

"What they cannot do is just tack onto England what works in Wales."

Labour has all but lost Scotland, with the SNP now delivering electoral landslides time and time again. Labour is marginalised on the constitutional question there, while the country is no longer producing the Scottish political giants it once did.

In England, there is a divide between the politics of urban and rural communties; what deindustrialised constituencies in the north want compared to those in the country's metropolises.

In Wales, the party has gently forged its own path over the years. Morgan put clear red water between himself and Blair. Jones did the same between himself and Corbyn. 

Starmer is not a toxic brand in the way some of his predecessors have been, but Drakeford is the face of the party here. He may not want to bridge that red water if the grass is greener for him on the bank this side.

Drakeford teacher? Starmer student?

So what lessons can be learnt from the all-conquering Welsh party?

While Labour has been encouraged by senior politicians not to navel gaze, the leadership surely has to look to Wales to see how a Labour party manages to win time and time again.

Identity plays a crucial role in how Welsh Labour operates, with Drakeford a Welsh speaker and the party all too keen to present itself as Wales' bulwark against Westminster's Conservative government.

Research by Dr Davies' colleague, Professor Richard Wyn Jones, shows that the English identity is now a formidable force in England, and not one Labour can afford to ignore. 

For Dr Davies, that is the key lesson the UK party must sit up and take note of.

"I think it probably should shift the dynamic in the party. For too long, what has been happening in Wales has been ignored. We have seen successive leaders fail to understand Welsh issues.

"The recent results may force Starmer to listen to Wales and look toward Drakeford.

"Labour needs to start talking about English identity and Englishness. There has to be recognition of identity in UK Labour.

“In Wales, Rhodri Morgan, Carwyn Jones and Mark Drakeford have created a successful political brand.

"They are successful in attacking nationalism in the context of Plaid Cymru, but they are more than happy to wrap themselves in the Welsh flag and use that Welsh identity themselves.

"Labour didn’t do that in Scotland, and it hasn't at a UK level, so there are lessons to be learnt there."

A Welsh acid test?

As with all politicians, their big judgement comes not in polls and commentary, but at the ballot box. 

Hartlepool was a major failing for Labour, however you look at it. The party  will be bounced from one by-election to another sooner rather than later with an election due in Batley and Spen on July 1.

Another could follow in Wales if Tory Rob Roberts gives into pressure to resign in Delyn.

The Tories won the Westminster seat from Labour in 2019, yet Welsh Labour's Hannah Blythyn held the Senedd seat last month with a majority of 3,711.

That means Delyn is a real acid test for Labour and Starmer. The seat has clearly endorsed Welsh Labour recently, but would they do the same for Starmer and his UK party?

Which of Drakeford, Starmer, or both, are plastered all over the party's campaign literature may tell you where the parties are heading into the future.

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