It’s just six months until we vote in the next Assembly election, but today I can bring you some news about the election after that, scheduled for 2015.
The UK government says it’ll give the Assembly – if it wants – the power to delay elections in future to avoid clashing with parliamentary elections.
You may remember the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition agreement includes plans to introduce fixed-term parliaments of five years.
The Assembly (as well as the Scottish parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly) already has fixed terms of four years, so the plan would mean the next UK general election would be held in 2015 – the same year that the next-but-one Assembly election is due.
That’s led to anger from politicians here who fear that the Welsh campaign would be completely overshadowed by UK politics.
Last night in parliament, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party joined forces with Labour to try to alter the legislation that would introduce the new election timetable.
But they were taken aback when the Parliamentary reform minister, Mark Harper, offered an unexpected concession.
He told MPs that the government will consult the parties in the devolved Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly to give them the power to delay their election dates by up to six months to avoid parliamentary elections.
As I mentioned, Assembly terms are fixed at four years and must be held on the first Thursday in May but under the current law, if two thirds of Assembly members vote for it, they can dissolve the Assembly up to six months earlier.
Mark Harper told MPs “We want to give them the power to extend, because if they have only the power to hold elections earlier, elections would effectively have to be held in the depths of winter. The Government have listened on that point, which is why we want to consult the legislatures on the ability to extend the date, which will give them much more flexibility.”
The Plaid MP behind the original amendments Jonathan Edwards said he was “very pleased that the UK Government has finally accepted our sensible argument that elections to the National Assembly for Wales should not be held on the same day as the UK election.”
He said he was assured the consultation would begin today.
Well if that was a surprise, even more unlikely was that Plaid’s joint effort with the SNP was supported in the Commons by Labour, led by the Rhondda MP Chris Bryant, a trenchant critic nationalist parties.
Mr Bryant congratulated Jonathan Edwards and said he would have tabled exactly the same amendments if he’d been quicker.
READ MORE: Adrian Masters looks ahead to the publication of the Welsh Assembly Government’s draft budget and what it means for Wales