I can also understand why Plaid don’t want to get into debate about who might do what and with whom after the election, preferring to concentrate on putting their own message across rather than speculating about deals and arrangements once the dust has settled. I’d be saying the same thing. But that won’t stop me or anyone else from thinking aloud about just what the process might be if Labour is to be deprived of control over these two important fields – and that demands giving some thought to potential electoral outcomes.
The most credible scenario, given current polling data, under which Labour would have no control over either of these policy fields would be an agreement between all the ‘non-Labour’ parties in the Assembly to come to some sort of arrangement under which one or more of the parties formed a coalition and the others agreed, as a minimum, not to bring the government down. But Plaid have already – very definitively – ruled that one out. So what does that leave?
There are currently four parties represented in the Assembly. At present, it looks extremely likely that they will be joined by a significant UKIP group, and it is at least possible that there will be a Green Party AM or two as well. Given that any sort of Plaid-Tory arrangement has been ruled out, there are only two possible arrangements of parties which could lead to the formation of a viable government after next May. The first is if the Tories, UKIP, and Lib Dems between them manage to get a total of around 30 seats; and the other is if Labour, Plaid, the Green Party and the Lib Dems manage to get to the same total (scenarios which include the possibility that any one party in either grouping has enough seats to form a government alone, even if that were to be a minority government with tacit support from at least one other party). (The Lib Dems are assumed to be flexible enough to jump either way, even if they only have one member left.)
Under the first of those scenarios, Labour would, obviously, be deprived of power over both Health and Education (as well as everything else!). Under the second, they would only be deprived of both if they were to be the junior partner in a coalition, with the senior partner well ahead of them in votes and seats. These are, after all, the two most important areas of policy over which the Assembly has control, and it’s just not credible that the largest coalition partner would cede control over both. Indeed, they’d only be likely to cede control over even one of them if there were to be a rough parity of seats between the partners. On current polling trends, the likeliest result, even if Plaid were to be a part of the government, would probably leave Labour in charge of both. (And that also means that Plaid’s participation in such a government would be in direct contradiction to what they said that they wanted to achieve – sadly, the Tory accusation of hypocrisy isn’t as far wide of the mark as I’d like to believe.)Neither of the two scenarios which would lead to a change of control over health and education seem remotely likely on present trends. It’s a depressing prospect, which serves only to underline quite how big an earthquake we need in Welsh politics if we’re going to see real change.