Monday, 14 March 2011

Orderly disengagement

“There needs to be an orderly disengagement, if I can put it that way. We understand that as parties.” So says Carwyn Jones, First Minister.
And the ‘orderly disengagement’ he is referring to is how to break up the blissful coalition between Labour and Plaid Cymru  that has ruled Wales these last four years.
But like every divorce, although the partners may want an amicable separation, there are always forces at work that mitigate against such a solution.
This separation is no exception. There are those that would introduce acrimony.
In this case its our shadow Secretary of State acting like the mother of the groom that says ‘she was never good enough for you son.’
The words Peter Hain uses are different but the sentiment is the same, “It is difficult, I think, in the long-term to justify having a Deputy First Minister in the Welsh Assembly Government as ineffective as Ieuan Wyn Jones.”  
In other words, - Carwyn Jones don’t think you can patch up your relationship with Plaid Cymru after May,  the Labour party won’t tolerate it.
Now, clearly, if polls are to be believed the elections will go well for Labour. They may even have a majority. But because of the electoral system that majority will be small, one, possibly two.

The question is would any leader want to run an administration for four or even possibly a five year period with such a wafer thin majority. The answer is surely, no.
Carwyn Jones and I guess many if not all the Labour Assembly members recognize that in all likelihood a deal will have to be done with an opposition party to secure stable government. 

There are only two choices Plaid Cymru or Peter Hain’s old party the Liberal Democrats. Which makes the most likely bedfellows?

A party that is already co-habiting elsewhere with Labour’s class enemy or a party that delivered without to much acrimony many of Labour’s manifesto commitments.

It’s not rocket science to work out which way it will go. I know it , you know it and so does Peter Hain.

The intriguing question is why has he decided in the last few weeks to put his tanks on Carwyn Jones’s lawn?  

Does he hope that such posturing will endear him to his parliamentary colleagues? For he needs their support to muster those crucial votes needed to see him elected to the shadow cabinet in his own right.

For then and only then can he shed the cumbersome burden of shadow Welsh Secretary a post after last week’s referendum that is pretty meaningless.

In any stand-off between Carwyn Jones and Peter Hain surely the money must be on the only Labour leader that holds office in the UK, all be it with his little helpers in Plaid Cymru.


  1. Assuming a narrow Labour outright majority, the question would become whether PC can accept a much reduced position in govt where they have little or no influence? They would not be in a position to demand any serious concessions (any hint of such would probably make Carwyn's pro-coalition position unsellable to LP Conference. It will be a tough enough sale anyways with the picture of Iain Gray leading a minority adminstration in Holyrood demonstrating that there is an alternative.

    Unlike 2007, a rainbow coalition is not going to be an option for Plaid even if Labour fall short. I predict some seriously brutal bargaining from the Labour side who may be keen to avoid the risk of particular policies being held to ransom by one or two malcontents, but ultimately know that no alternative govt is possible.

    Interesting times ...

  2. Surely the question is what Labour can offer Plaid at the negotiating table.

    The One Wales coalition was a massive victory for Plaid in 2007 - successful referendum undoing Labour's LCO fudge in Westminster; official status for the Welsh language; an independent commission proving that Labour's Barnett Formula was doing massive damage to the state of Welsh public services and the tacit admission that Lab had got it wrong.

    Given that Labour's bosses in London still think that Barnett is a good idea and Labour have nothing to offer Plaid - either economically or constitutionally - in the next four years, then actually what good is One Wales 2 to Plaid?

    Personally, I wouldn't want Plaid to be interested in power for its own sake.

    Labour made the economic mess which we're in - might it be better for them to lie in their own bed, or join with the rag-tag remainder of the Lib Dems to make the cuts?

  3. Peter Hain cuts a tragic figure these days - wandering impotently from press briefing to press briefing trying to prove that he is still somebody, still important, and failing miserably at every sound byte!

    During the YES campaign, I think Carwyn grew in stature, and Hain managed - without reason - to diminish himself through his petulance and bad temper.

    Hain didn't even get elected to the Shadow Cabinet - so he is on pretty shaky ground taking on the Welsh leader of the Labour Party who was properly elected to his position! Time for the vain one to retire?

  4. The aftermath of the elections in May will prove to be more interesting than the elections themselves, me thinks!

  5. Perhaps we see a time coming when Labour are in power with a small majority, and the other parties just stand around pulling the rug out from under them, and giving them a bit of a kicking whenever possible...Having reached the great age that I have, it wouldn't be the first occasion that I've seen this outcome!!!

  6. Without diminishing the importance of the next 8 weeks I tend to concur that it will (again) be the aftermath that's most interesting. Let's face it, the You Gov polls are methodologically sound, fairly well tested in the referendum and have been pretty consistent over the past 6 months in showing a Labour lead at the cusp of a narrow majority, based on a Uniform Swing. In practice we all know that it only needs Labour to fall short in two of their 6/7 targets to leave them short.

    Sionnyn is harsh about PH IMHO, but she's right that he narrowly missed the Shad Cab, and this maybe partly explained by splintering in the WPLP vote as well as failure to attract votes from the 200 odd English/Scottish blocks. What PH (and, as a former member of Labour's Welsh Executive, Gareth too) knows is that a strong tribal streak still runs through Labour, which will take more than a second grudgingly accepted coalition to breakdown. Hain is also in fact a bit out of the loop. It IS Carwyn's call in the first instance, although both Hain and the overall party leader Ed Miliband will doubtless expect to be consulted if a deal is being considered.

    Ian's perspective is interesting too. The principle gain from PC's viewpoint would presumably be to butress their newly won credibility as a responsible party of government. It would also label them more firmly still as a party of the democratic left, and a more natural ally with Labour than any other - which might be a good or bad thing for PC supporters depending on their individual ideological perspectives - They might also have limited specific objectives in spending portfolios such as culture and language or rural affairs, or maybe legislation in other fields which could be furthered through some sort of arrangement with Labour. If one accepts the bottom line that a rainbow ain't an option (even if the result made it mathematically possible), then it's deal with Labour or be cast into opposition - possibly not even as the leading opposition party if the Conservatives were to gain a couple of seats at the LD's expense.

    Finally, it's not as thoiugh its full on coalition or nothing. The 1979 Lib-Lab pact is a precedent worth considering in the context of various permeations on the 'confidence and supply' principles - which might escape the necessity for full on Special Conferences and just allow co-operation to develop organically issue by issue.