08 July 2007

Wales: the Final Piece of the Jigsaw

Labour and Plaid have, by overwhelming majorities, agreed to go into Coalition together. With Plaid's Dafydd Elis-Thomas as Presiding Officer, the two parties have 40 seats between them, with the Tories forming the new Official Opposition with 12 seats, the LibDems with six, and Trish Law on one. This means that the new WAG has a majority of 21.

To be honest, no outcome was ideal in this election. Labour remained the largest party but lost more than 10% of its AMs, clearly showing itself to be on a downward spiral and making it a fairly difficult prospect for any other party to join with it. And minority government wasn't a great situation either: the other parties have until now shown a willingness to work together to stick it to Rhodri Morgan (and indeed, Alun Michael) at any opportunity. So to get a Coalition, even one that involves campaigning on the Yes side of a referencdum on Holyrood-like powers for the Assembly, and horrifies a large part of the Welsh Labour contingent at Westminster, is pretty good going.

Plaid's position is an odd one as well. They have foregone their status as largest Opposition party to become the junior partner in a Grand Coalition. They could even have been at the head of the Rainbow Coalition, and Ieuan Wyn Jones could have been First Minister, but it wasn't to be. The fact that the LibDems were blowing hot and cold didn't help matters, and neither did the fact that some Plaid AMs were horrified at working with the Tories. It would have taken a long time for the Rainbow Coalition to get up and running, and it would have been very weak. I don't think it would have lasted the full four years. Plaid now get into government, but with Labour at the head, Rhodri Morgan and his successor (Morgan has voiced an intention to quit in 2009) are the ones who will take the flak for things that go wrong. Plaid can sidestep difficult headlines, as the LibDems did in Scotland.

For the Tories, there are good points and bad points. The downside is that they are confirmed as the Party that Nobody Loves, with Labour not even bothering to talk to them, and several Plaid AMs furious at the idea of their involvement in a Rainbow Coalition. On the other hand, Nick Bourne is now Leader of the Opposition in Wales (albeit still from third place), a first for a Tory Leader in either Holyrood or Cardiff Bay. The Party can benefit from this.

The LibDems, meanwhile, are frozen out, and like in Scotland, it's a problem of their own making. However, the similarities end there: in Scotland, the LibDems took the huff and wouldn't speak to anyone. In Wales, they spoke to everyone, but kept pulling out. Then they'd talk again. Then they'd pull out again. Their own indecision killed their prospects in the end, and like in Scotland, questions now have to be asked about the LibDems' relevance in politics.

Of course, the metropolitian press have noted that 'nationalists are now in power in all three devolved administrations'. They miss the point: nationalists have to be in power in Northern Ireland - it's called a Power Sharing Agreement for a reason - and Sinn Fein is not the only nationalist party: the SDLP are nationalist, have a minister nad supplied the Deputy First Minister before the Assembly was suspended in 2002. Sinn Fein, meanwhile, had Ministers since 1999 and it's only now that Martin McGuinness is Deputy First Minister that anyone's really bothered. And it's worth noting that the Election produce a Unionist majority and a majority of Ministers in the Executive are Unionists for the first time (7 to 5 versus 6 apiece beforehand). The SNP do form the Government in Scotland, but the minority status means that the Party is reliant on the goodwill of the (Unionist) Opposition parties. And Ieuan Wyn Jones is about to become Deputy First Minister of Wales, but therein lies the rub: Deputy First Minister. Plaid are the Junior Partners to a Unionist Labour Party.

The time for hysteria from London has not yet come.


agentmancuso said...

"questions now have to be asked about the LibDems' relevance in politics."

That's a bit harsh, J.Arthur. Liberalism is an essential component of British politics, and the relevance of a party aiming to advance that cause, however shufflingly, cannot be doubted.

Questions about the competence of party leadership are a different matter, unfortunately.

Will said...

I'd say that Liberalism is an essential part of politics across Britain, agent, but the LibDems have now found themselves unable to advance it properly: they'll only be needed for support (and be able to get support) in Scotland where they already agree with at least two other parties (or there's scope for agreement), and they can be cut out of the process easily enough. They've been left out of the loop in Wales and unless there's a Hung Parliament at Westminster, they're in the shadow of the other two parties there as well, though the voting system has to bear some of the blame for that.

Liberalism is still an important concept, but the LibDems, right now, aren't bearing its standard as well as they could be in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff.