Friday, July 13, 2007

Labour and Plaid strike deal in Wales

by Lorraine Barrett

Labour Welsh Assembly Member for Cardiff South & Penarth

ON 3RD MAY this year, we had elections to the National Assembly for Wales. I was re-elected for the third time as Labour & Co-operative Assembly Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, which is also represented by Alun Michael who became our MP in 1987 after Jim Callaghan stood down.
Unfortunately Labour failed to get a majority, winning 26 out of the 60 seats. In Wales we have 40 First-Past-the-Post constituency members, and 20 regional list members, which means that, depending on how many votes individual parties get, and how many constituency seats they have in a region, they can pick up on the regional seats. Unfortunately,with the Proportional Representation system we have, the BNP only needed another 2,000 votes in the North Wales region and they would have had a seat in the Assembly.
Our Labour Leader in Wales is Rhodri Morgan and after the election he started negotiations with the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru to see if a deal could be struck to ensure a stable Government with Labour in control.
Talks took place around the idea of stability pacts rather than coalition, but in the background was the spectre of a so-called "Rainbow Alliance" made up of Plaid (15 seats), Lib Dems (six) and the Tories (12) – there is one Independent member.
Rhodri Morgan had always made it clear that we would never work with the Tories. At one point it looked as though we could come to an arrangement with the Lib Dems which was our preferred option as there are so few of them and we had worked with them in the previous Assembly, but in true Lib Dem style, they couldn’t make up their minds, so Labour put down a motion to elect Rhodri Morgan as First Minister and it went through.
Rhodri appointed his Cabinet and prepared to run a Minority Government, but knew it would only be a matter of time before the three opposition parties would put down a vote of no confidence and set up their "Triple Alliance" (Rainbow is too nice a word to describe a group which has Tories in it). Rhodri then opened talks with the leader of Plaid with a view to setting up a formal coalition and those talks have been developing in earnest for some weeks. There have been voices of dissent in both parties where feelings run deep on historic grounds.
Some in the Labour Party feel that Plaid will try and "force" nationalism on us whilst there are those in Plaid who believe the Labour party will just try to dominate and use them.
I have been an active member of the Labour Party for over 30 years but this has been the most difficult issue we have had to deal with. The problem is that, whilst we have this form of PR in the Assembly, it will be very hard for Labour to get a majority, so we will have to accept that some form of coalition or co-operative way of working, will become the norm.
Running a minority government would mean putting forward only those policies that were guaranteed to get through and the opposition parties, as a group, could just keep voting everything down, which would not be in the interests of the people of Wales.
Whilst there will be huge challenges facing us in the Welsh Assembly, having to work with another party, particularly one that has been our sworn enemy for decades, we will now have stable Government and can get on with the job – something we’ve been waiting to do since 3rd May!