Thursday 12 May 2016

Accident or design?

Perhaps over the coming days it will become clearer whether Plaid in the Assembly really intended to have their leader elected as First Minister with the support of the Tories and UKIP, or whether they were just trying to make a point, and were as surprised as outside observers to receive the unanimous support of both of those parties.  I’m prepared to believe that there was no deal done in advance, which makes the second theory more credible than the first.
What is clear is that if the sole remaining Lib Dem had voted the other way, we would now have a Plaid First Minister, even if that result was more by accident than design.  How workable would it have been for a party with 12 seats out of 60 to govern effectively without a coalition or some other less formal sort of arrangement with the other parties?
Well, there’s a great deal that a government can do without needing to win a single vote on the floor of the Assembly.  Once the First Minister has been elected, then in essence, government only needs to avoid defeat on its budget and on any vote of no confidence tabled by the opposition.  As long as it’s prepared to negotiate on the budget, and as long as the other parties which put it into power are prepared to support it in any confidence vote, a government which avoids any contentious legislation can exercise power within existing legislation quite easily.  What it could not expect is to be able to implement any manifesto pledges which do not attract the support of other parties.  It would be a change of management, but probably not much of a change of direction.
In reality, however, even that limited level of co-operation between Plaid, Tories, and UKIP would be seen as being exactly that – co-operation – and it is likely that there would be a political price to pay.  Who would pay that price is an interesting question; certainly Plaid would suffer (initially at least), but I also wonder what grass roots Tories, never mind UKIP members, would think about their party backing a Plaid Government without any formal participation in it.  And who knows, perhaps seeing that there is an alternative to Labour might lead to other voting changes as well.
The bigger question is whether the price would be worth it.  And by that, I don’t simply mean in terms of the next election or two, but in terms of the longer term.  I’ve posted before that I thought Plaid were making a strategic and tactical mistake in ruling out options in advance of the election (and having ruled them out so firmly, being seen to be apparently doing the opposite once elected, whatever the real truth may be, isn’t the brightest start).  I don't believe that nationalists should ever have any objection in principle to working with any or all other parties if that advances the cause of Wales.  The question is about weighing up whether the long term gain for the national project outweighs the short term pain for one or more parties, and that’s a much bigger question than deciding whether to be in government or opposition.
I’d really like to believe that someone had done that thinking and calculation before yesterday’s vote, and had thought through the implications.  But I rather suspect not.


Anonymous said...

Was it naivety, groupthink, arrogance or all three from Plaid Cymru yesterday that created this unholy mess, whatever they aimed to achieve I doubt they intended to end up irrevocably tarnishing Leanne Wood’s leadership and holing Plaid Cymru below the waterline.

On the other hand it’s been a very good week for Labour winning the election with 34% of the vote and finally seeing off its closets rival, yesterday also confirmed Labour rule indefinitely for Wales as if it was ever in doubt.

Peter Freeman said...

The way I see it. When Labour thought that all they had to do was hold a vote without consultation, it would seem inevitable that the leader of the opposition would have her name on the ballot. There's nothing strange in that and there is nothing odd in the Conservatives then voting with the leader of the opposition. That seems quite parliamentary of all concerned. The big surprise was UKIP. If they had held to the principles of their manifesto, they would have abstained. That would seem the most obvious scenario and today we would have Carwyn back as FM.
Whether intentionally or not, and I suspect the latter, UKIP have become the kingmakers. Withdrawing their support from the opposition would give Carwyn the post. Maintaining their position could effectively hold the assembly to ransom. They have, quite accidentally I believe, placed themselves in a powerful position.
It all rests on whether Plaid can make a deal with Labour. If not it would appear that Carwyn could be elected with UKIP support.
I rather hope so, that would be the end of UKIP and a huge loss of support for labour.

John Dixon said...


I broadly agree with your analysis, except that:

a) I would have expected the Tories to put forward their own leader, rather than fall in behind Plaid (I suspect that their grass roots members would have too), and

b) I'd add that UKIP, the joker in the pack as it were, merely seized the opportunity that was presented to them rather than becoming kingmakers by accident.

Perhaps the main lesson should be that, when dealing with jokers, one should never take anything for granted.