Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Compromise is inevitable

The BBC’s St David’s Day poll isn’t the first to suggest that the Conservatives are attracting more support in Wales than has traditionally been the case. It has now happened several times in the past few years, most often in polls taken a long way before elections, but the apparent surge in support has ebbed away to some extent when people have to put crosses in boxes. According to the latest poll, the next Senedd elections could see something akin to a three-way dead heat.  That doesn’t look like an impossible outcome to me, although history suggests that it may not be quite as close as that in the end, and that Labour may end up with more of an edge than the polls currently indicate.
I’m not convinced that that amounts to the sort of ‘turmoil’ which would rapidly lead to an election re-run, as suggested by Vaughan Roderick in the BBC’s report, although that depends on the extent to which the parties are prepared to behave like adults rather than children in responding to any election result remotely resembling the outcome of this poll.  Despite two decades of a devolved administration elected by a more proportional system than that used for Westminster, the parties still seem to want to behave as though the outcome of an election should reflect the Westminster model and lead to single party government, and as though elections are some sort of polarisation between ‘us’ and ‘them’.  But that isn’t the reality of even the current proportional system, let alone an even more proportional system such as STV.
In support of his prediction of turmoil, Vaughan states that “Plaid Cymru would be unlikely to support a newly-humbled Labour Party while supporting a Conservative-led administration would be all but politically impossible for both Labour and Plaid.”  It’s not an unreasonable supposition from which to start based on the currently displayed attitudes of all three parties, but it doesn’t say anything good about either Plaid or the Labour Party.  It paints one of them as arguing that the party which comes out on top has somehow lost all right to lead a government just because it’s lost a few seats, and both of them as rejecting the right of the chosen representatives of around one third of the electorate to play any part in government.  It’s almost a case of both saying that ‘our one third of the electorate is more important than someone else’s one third’. It almost implies that in some vague sense the combined two-thirds who vote for Labour and Plaid are in some way collectively voting against the other third – and I wonder if that isn’t, at some level, the thought process which is at work.  It certainly fits the anti-Tory rhetoric of both parties.
Many of us might prefer that the Tories didn’t attract anything like one third of the votes in Wales, and there are plenty of people prepared to blame inward migration or media-driven anglicisation.  Both of those might well be contributors, but we cannot and should not overlook the fact that there has always been a more significant level of Tory support in Wales than results of a first-past-the-post electoral system have generally suggested.  And in a proportional system, unless an alternative party can persuade those voters to switch (and treating their current choice of party as some sort of pariah doesn’t immediately strike me as the most productive approach to doing that), then that party is going to remain a significant player in the Senedd.  That in turn means that, unless either Plaid or Labour can land a knock-out punch on the other (as the SNP have done to Labour in Scotland, but which currently looks highly unlikely to happen in Wales), then any alternative to including Labour in any conceivable government of Wales requires some sort of accommodation imvolving the Tories. 
Whether that’s through a coalition or some other sort of arrangement is a more open question, but a non-Labour government without such an understanding looks impossible on the current polling numbers, and it’s hard to see what is suddenly going to change those numbers. Parties which rule things out too forcibly in advance of an election (although I well understand the electoral imperative for doing that) will only find that they either have to do the opposite after the election or else leave themselves with no room for manoeuvre. Post-election negotiations boil down to one of two things – the detail of a programme for government, or the grubby business of securing power at whatever the price may be.  In a mature proportional system, the necessity for coalitions or arrangements would be accepted in advance and parties would be talking about what compromises they might be willing to make in relation to their own manifestos and what compromises they would expect from others. For all parties to fight the Senedd election as though an outright victory for each of them is a credible outcome is a sign that we have some way to go before we reach that level of maturity.

1 comment:

dafis said...

Politicians, especially those who advocate more or total independence, should rely far less on these polls and far more on the detailed hard work of communicating with the electorate. Sound bites are all well and good but there needs to be a sustained barrage of critical messages detailing how the antics of present governments in London and the Bay are not defending let alone improving the lot of most people in Wales. This will require effort at the sharp end out in the communities spelling out what's wrong and how it could be put right. Development of relevant meaningful policies on just a handful of key matters would be useful instead of pontificating about stuff which is a bit remote and abstract to us common herd. Plaid,Gwlad,or McEvoy ? I don't really care as long as they get on with it. Thus far McEvoy looks like the one most at home mixing it with his community. Others would do well to learn from his approach and willingness.