Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Friends Falling Out

This week’s little spat between the Wales Green Party and Plaid Cymru looks, from the outside at least, to have been based on a not insignificant misunderstanding of the difference between an agreement to work together after the election and an electoral pact.  And reading between the lines, it looks as though some in Plaid had assumed, with no obvious foundation in evidence, that Plaid’s unilateral decision to urge people in England to vote Green would be followed by some sort of quid pro quo in Wales.
The desire in some quarters to see an electoral pact where there is none is driven by an over-simplistic analysis of the polling data.  The fact that adding the numbers of votes for two parties together leads to a higher total is an undeniable arithmetical fact.  Turning that arithmetical fact into an electoral result however is another matter entirely.
In the first place, it’s a fallacy to assume that supporters of one party will vote for another party if their leaders tell them to do so.  Electors’ votes are not the plaything of parties to be traded or swapped.  The extent to which the electors might feel inclined to follow the advice of their leaders will inevitably depend at least in part on the extent to which they feel that there is a real policy crossover between the two.  And in this case, at this time, I’m really not sure that there is.
There is, it is true, agreement on opposition to austerity and opposition to Trident, but these are essentially negatives, not positives.  Being united in opposition to something isn’t the same as having an agreed policy to do something different, let alone an agreed programme for possible future coalition.  This is not a UK version of Syriza or Podemos - it's much less ambitious than that.  And there are some fairly fundamental differences as well.
Any nationalist is likely to be wary about giving his or her support to a party which seems to have as little regard for Welsh national aspirations, to say nothing of the Welsh language, as some in the Green Party.  It’s as though Green Party members and candidates are free to take whatever line they want on an issue which is core to many nationalists.  And in the same way, any green voter is likely to be wary of voting for a party which has no coherent policy on one of the key environmental issues, namely energy policy.  On an issue which is core to many green supporters, Plaid’s members have shown that they are, in practice, free to busk; to say whatever they think will win them votes in a particular constituency.  Given just those points, the probability is that vote transference between the parties would be a very long way short of the 100% being assumed by people with calculators.
Looking at harsh electoral reality, the number of seats in Wales where one or other of the two parties standing down might (and I stress might) make it easier for the other to win, even if all the other party's supporters dutifully did as told, is a sum total of one.  Only one of the parties stands to gain; the apparent expectation that the other would tamely acquiesce looks wholly unrealistic.  Under the current voting system, what’s in it for the Wales Green Party? 
I can remember a time when Plaid was in a not too dissimilar position to the Green Party today; fighting a whole host of hopeless seats with no chance of winning.  And I’m sure that I can remember voices from the general direction of the Labour Party (albeit far from unanimous voices) questioning why the two parties were fighting each other.  Plaid developed a national presence at least partly as a result of insisting on putting its own unique view before all the electors of Wales.  Supporters of a pact between Plaid and the Greens are suggesting that both parties should, in effect, stop doing that.  It only works if that which they are proposing is sufficiently similar.
All that said, I’m attracted by the idea that, if we want to break the mould of politics (whether in Wales or the UK), more co-operation between parties would be helpful.  But to be meaningful it needs to start from a unity of purpose around an agreed policy platform which is positive rather then merely negative, not merely around a shared dislike of some elements of current government policy, let alone around grubby electoral calculations - which is where things are at present.


Anonymous said...

The 'pact' doesn't work cause both parties are fishing in the same pond for voters which the Greens have been more successful in attracting new support and also disaffected Lib Dem and Labour voters.

Then compare Plaid Cymru with the SNP who look likely to wipe Labour out in Scotland and it's no surprise Plaid Cymru supporters are frustrated with the current leadership team's failure to gain traction accross Wales in such favourable circumstances.

Anonymous said...

Plaid are hardly the SNP who even in 2011 had over 50% of the working class vote and have subsequently driven the Scottish Labour party into the ground.
Their impressive increase in membership includes a large number of former Labour activists and Labour supporters as well as their own supporters becoming formal members. the SNP have been fairly relaxed about throwing open the doors in a way Plaid is not yet showing.
If you had initiated a referendum campaign and then made a calculated gamble to open it all up to all and sundry and trust the others to not cock it up - your mindset changes. You cannot work together with other groups and expect them to leave their agendas at the door - it has to work both ways.
Plaid is just not in the right position to make major gains. It hasn't done the homework and does not have the track record of good governance of the SNP administrations. More work neededn

Anonymous said...

Plaid and the Greens cooperate in the European Parliament and at Westminister, and if current projections are right and the Welsh Greens can pick up a few seats in Wales in 2016 then there's every likelehood they'll be cooperating with plaid in the senedd in the near future too.

Until then talk of an 'alliance' between the two parties is probably a bit premature.....but there's every chance that between them they'll be able to push welsh politics in a more progressive direction in the near future.