My favourite phrase that captures the essence of leadership comes from an ancient Welsh saying: "A fo ben bid bont - if you want to lead, be a bridge".

It’s a lesson especially for politicians, particularly those on the left, and most definitely for the Labour movement. Neil Kinnock started to build a bridge out of the wilderness, albeit at the expense of party unity.

John Smith galvanised and directed his people firmly toward government. But it was Tony Blair that eventually shepherded New Labour over the abyss to an era when things could only get better.

The heirs to Blair have failed miserably in uniting the party behind a common goal – and few people truly know where Keir Starmer is heading, who he is bringing with him, or for what purpose.

For a detail-oriented former Director of Public Prosecutions, ‘Captain Hindsight’ was a cruel but resonant nickname that stuck throughout the pandemic. As was the perception that the Labour leader appeared more comfortable sitting on the fence than coming down on either side of a political debate.

Let us not forget that Sir Keir has embraced a trying task. To be leader of the Opposition in a national emergency, against the most popular Prime Minister in modern English history, while navigating a factional and volatile party plagued by infighting from the grassroots up to the green benches of the House of Commons, is, to be frank, quite difficult work. But for members, there are only so many excuses that can be made.

Starmer’s speech to the Labour conference on Wednesday afternoon is a watershed moment to build bridges internally and position Labour as an alternative party of government to the public.

Ructions over reforms to Labour leadership election rules – so severe that (another) civil war may yet break out – now seems inevitable. But there is still time for the Labour leader’s office to put the finishing touches on what ‘Starmerism’ exactly is.

An 11,000 word overview – filled with clichés and hyperbole on how Labour would quite literally build “something new and better” – came this week.

Starmer’s essay for the Fabian Society, ‘The Road Ahead’, could be read as the preface to his Brighton address. From the initial reaction, I suspect it has done little among allies and critics to alleviate concerns about Labour’s almost hopeless prospects.

For Starmer faces a momentous struggle: to win the next election, a majority akin to Blair’s is needed: another re-routing of British politics. Most of Scotland and the Red Wall in England must be won back.

Both countries are distinct political entities, swiftly drifting towards nationalisms championed by their respective governments. Overcoming the barrier of speaking about Englishness, in the way that former Labour MP John Denham has encouraged, is particularly crucial for Starmer to manage the matrix of English politics, consumed by Euroscepticism and suspicious, on the whole, of Celtic devolution.

In that context it is surprising that there is only one mention of the peculiar but pertinently informative politics of Wales in the essay; and more bizarre, that learnings from Welsh Labour are completely absent from Starmer’s draft doctrine.

After all, no party in Europe has managed the complexities of nationalisms better than Welsh Labour – in the recent Senedd election, when voting patterns appeared closely aligned to national identity, Mark Drakeford picked up votes from Welsh speakers, Brexiteers, young people, as well as unionists and nationalists alike.

So then to Starmer’s explanation of patriotism versus nationalism: “Nationalists like to portray themselves as patriots. But patriotism and nationalism are not the same. In fact, they are opposites. Nationalism represents an attempt to divide people from one another; patriotism is an attempt to unite people of different backgrounds. Nationalism is about the casting out of the other; patriotism is about finding common ground. Nationalism is the flag as a threat. Patriotism is the flag as a celebration.”

Few in London clearly recognise the irony of dismissing Celtic nationalism while inadvertently promoting another. And portraying Welsh or Scottish nationalism as “casting out of the other” is rather odd too, especially if we consider how the First Minister is hoping to work with Plaid Cymru in the Senedd.

In an interview with BBC Wales this weekend, Starmer insisted he would not “interfere” in such matters. But he has no mandate nor power to do so, of course.

There are some positive signs, including that UK Labour is listening to Wales. Once dismissed by Tony Blair’s leadership team as the “smaller, uglier sister” of Scotland, aside from the likes of Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan, it is now in Wales where Mark Drakeford has developed a strong national party to offer a sense of direction to its British parent.

Overshadowed no doubt by Starmer’s essay, ‘Stronger Together: Labour Works’ is a report fronted by the First Minister and Labour chair Annelise Dodds to showcase the “bold, ambitious and radical change that Labour in power is delivering”.

It is a step in the right direction. But beyond championing what has been delivered in terms of policy – achievements I suspect barely register with Welsh voters beyond Cardiff’s handling of the pandemic – the greatest lesson UK Labour can take from its Welsh branch is how it has confronted the question of its identity.

Mark Drakeford, from when he was writing Rhodri Morgan’s speeches in the early Noughties, understood the power of soft nationalism to create the “clear red water” between Wales and England.

The context is different, but the principle is similar: in a country where there are multiple identities, divided by geography, language, or socio-economic backgrounds, it is not impossible to become a natural national party of government.

For Welsh Labour, it has been a process , rather than an event, for close to a century. They have, under the leadership of different men, been a bridge for different groups to feel they are reaching their aspirations and have a movement that shares their beliefs.

Emulating such a strategy is not impossible, either. For a decade the process of getting Labour back on track has ebbed and flowed across Britain, but at a time when the UK is governed from crisis to crisis, still plagued by complications from Brexit and vague slogans about ‘levelling-up’, there is room again for a party to speak to communities that once saw Labour as its natural home.

To do so, above all, will mean accepting that Labour must be clear about its identity – mostly in England, but also in other parts of Britain. Otherwise, the party will stagnate and limp on to 2024, where defeat is almost entirely certain.

Mark Drakeford, and the Welsh Labour carved in his image for two decades, is the best model for UK Labour to avoid that fate. The Road Ahead is not certain for Starmer – but one thing is: all roads don’t lead to Rome, but, of course, to Cardiff.

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