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Election 2011, News, Politics

Coalition Conundrum

I’m raising the C-word on this evening’s Wales Tonight. After all we’re grown-ups.

Politicians from the four main parties don’t like you to use the c-word – of course I mean coalition – during an election campaign.

I can understand why: none of them know exactly how the maths will work out on May the fifth and none wants to commit to any deal before then.

And for some voters, the prospect of their party sharing government with another could put them off going to the polling booth altogether.

As I say, I can understand their reluctance to answer the question, so why am I and other journalists so eager to ask it repeatedly?

In the first instance it’s because coalitions have become such a big part of Welsh politics (and more recently UK politics).

In fact for seven out of the 12 years since the Assembly began, government has been shared by two parties.

So it’s more likely than it used to be, but the polls show Labour’s on course to win a majority so it shouldn’t matter this time, should it?

While that’s certainly true, what’s also true is that the electoral system for the Assembly, with 20 regional seats shared out amongst the parties, is designed to make majorities extremely difficult to achieve.

Add in the usual unknowable effects of a significant number of volatile and unpredictable constituencies and you have a scenario where, even with Labour doing very well, it still doesn’t reach that magic number of 31 seats.

In my interview with the Welsh Labour leader last week, Carwyn Jones  said that 30 seats would be very difficult to go it alone so that it’s still quite likely that Labour could have to look for a coalition partner.

Self-justification over, what are the possibilities then? I’ll tell you what I know.

Within Welsh Labour, opinion’s split.

There are many who have become relaxed about partnership with Plaid Cymru. The sky didn’t fall in and they feel the arrangement worked smoothly and efficiently.

They’re the ones who’d be delighted to see a One Wales II and what may surprise you is that not all of them are those in the Bay who sometimes get derided by other Labour members as ‘crypto-nationalists’ or ‘red-greeners’.

In fact more than one of those who’ve spoken to me about the desirability of One Wales II is outside that faction (such as it is) and, in one case, Westminster-based.

However it’s certainly true to say that a good number of Welsh Labour MPs and many others in the party at large favour turning to the Liberal Democrats first.

I’ve heard it said that doing so could mean a better deal with a Lib Dem group either weakened by a poor election result or eager to distance themselves from their party in Westminster.

Of course both of those scenarios raise problems – as one senior Labour person put it, ‘How could you do a deal with 3 or 4 people?’

Would the Lib Dems be interested? As Kirsty Williams said in her Face to Face interview, ‘I’m not ruling anything in nor ruling anything out.’

As for Plaid, most members I’ve spoken to about this privately express a preference for a second round of government with Labour.

The question is, what would Plaid gain from joining forces with Labour?

There is of course another possibility: a rainbow coalition of Plaid, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Potentially those three parties could have enough seats to outvote Labour.

Other commentators have previously noted that the conditions make a rainbow coalition less likely this time than it was back in 2007.

The three parties aren’t working regularly with each other as they were then and two of them are in government at Westminster, making decisions that are often unpopular here in Wales.

Furthermore there’s a good chance that the Conservatives could be the largest of the three after May 5th.

Nick Bourne said in his face to face interview that in that eventuality he would expect to be First Minister while, in his face to face interview, Ieuan Wyn Jones  said Plaid Cymru would never serve under a Conservative First Ministership.

There’s another factor though. Barring a major upset, Labour looks likely to make substantial gains on May 5th, to have ‘won’ the election whether or not it wins a majority.

One senior Plaid figure told me that that would make it very hard to see a non-Labour government in Cardiff Bay.

If that view is widely shared amongst Plaid’s leadership, it puts Labour very much in the driving seat.

But as senior Labour person put it to me, ‘It’s all about the votes’ and none of us can predict how they’ll be shared out.

There’s even the possibility of a Green or UKIP AM joining the other parties in Cardiff Bay.

I’ve had a go at explaining some of the basics of this for Wales Tonight at 6pm on ITV1 Wales.

And you may pick up some more clues in tonight’s Wales Decides: the Leaders’ Debate.

Jonathan Hill and an audience at Cardiff’s Coal Exchange put the four main party leaders on the spot.

Join them at 1035pm, ITV1 Wales.


About Adrian Masters

By day, Political Editor at ITV Wales. By night, obsessed with music and books.


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