Tuesday, 28 July 2009

More than a Trump needed to win

There is much with which I agree in the analysis by Daran Hill over at WalesHome of the One Wales coalition. There are one or two aspects of the history of the coalition negotiations on which my take would be slightly different, but that's a matter for another time.

There are, however, two other factors which I'd add to his list – even if that spoils the little mnemonic.

The first is 'Preparation'. I don't think any of the parties, let alone the public, were properly prepared for the negotiations in 2007. Certainly, I know that Plaid had not adequately discussed the question; and my perception throughout the process was that the other parties hadn't really done so either.

We're all far too accustomed to 'British' politics, in which, because it is based on a first past the post system of voting, coalition is an extremely rare beast. We are accustomed to a situation where parties fighting an election can only do so on the basis of an assumption that they are going to win an overall majority – even though, in an Assembly context, we all know that that is a highly unlikely outcome.

The result is that none of us were able or willing to spell out clearly to the electorate the extent to which we might be willing - or be forced - to compromise on our manifestoes in practice. It would have meant conceding in advance that we were not expecting to win an outright majority (even though everyone knew that anyway). It won't be easy to change that approach, but if we are to be more honest with the electorate I think we need to.

That does not mean creating electoral alliances, but it does mean being willing to discuss more openly what potential arrangements we would be willing to consider - and any which we would definitely not - as well as which (if any) commitments in our manifestoes we would regard as genuine 'red line' matters, on which we would not be willing to compromise.

It would lead to a rather different style of electioneering – more continental than British – but that's just another plus.

The second additional factor is 'Commitment of the Wider Party'. On the basis of experience to date, we have seen how MPs in London can obstruct and derail elements of any Welsh Government's agenda as part of the unwieldy LCO process. None of us in Plaid were ever expecting the process to be perfect, but I think we had reasonable cause to believe, given that the whole Labour Party signed up to the coalition, that the party's MPs would support the government programme to which their party had agreed.

That doesn't mean supporting everything One Wales government does, or suspending normal hostilities over non-devolved issues. But on the specific matters which were part of the coalition agreement accepted by both parties, the behaviour of some Labour MPs has been disappointing, to say the least.

It follows that from my perspective, in judging any potential coalition arrangements post 2011, one of the things I'd want to look at is the extent to which the prospective coalition partners are prepared to ensure that their own parties do not block the government programme by using their votes in another place. This has been a huge problem with the Labour Party – and I suspect that it would have been an even bigger problem with the Conservative Party, given that their leader in the Assembly has zilch authority to speak for anyone in his party other than the 12 Assembly members (and I wonder about some of them as well).

1 comment:

Daran said...

Accept both the points that you make. Preparation is a critical factor, and the issue of whether red lines (or any other colour for that matter) was indeed a feature at the conference which inspired the article.

With regard to the commitment of the "Wider Party" I'd be tempted to incorporate my W (Westminster) in with this new heading, and discuss both in that context.

Still can't see what to do with the additional P though, if I want to keep the mnemonic ;)

Thanks for commenting on this issue John - your opinions always add more than a little gravitas.