The Welsh Government has ruled out doing a budget deal with the Conservatives and will from now on only talk to Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats.
It’s no surprise that a Labour government would find it difficult to reach any such agreement with the Conservatives, but it’s still a significant step to rule it out in public at this stage.
According to a Welsh Government source, talks with the other two parties have been ‘constructive and positive throughout’ even though they joined forces to defeat the government in the first Senedd vote on the budget proposals yesterday (Tuesday). That move is ‘understood’ as a negotiating tactic.
But the Conservatives’ wish list is dismissed – ‘they want to spend more money in every single area, in order to replicate what’s happening at Westminster,’ the source said.
Well the Tories aren’t taking that lying down. A senior Welsh Conservative told me,
They (Labour) have clearly woken from their slumber and are hitting out because of their crass incompetence at losing the vote yesterday.
And the Conservative leadership is clearly also stung by that ‘replicating Westminster’ jibe.
A source close to the leader, Andrew RT Davies, said that it was ‘remarkable’ to infer that from a single meeting in which only ‘Welsh Conservative ideas’ were put forward with a view to building a broad consensus.
And the same accusation of Westminster string-pulling is being fired right back. The message from Mr Davies is that,
Carwyn Jones might have to take instructions from Peter Hain; I only take instructions from my members.
That single meeting, I gather, took place on Wednesday 19th October.
According to the Conservatives it was clear from ‘the body language and tone’ of Carwyn Jones and his advisers, that it was only being held as ‘a courtesy.’
In contrast, I understand there have been several separate meetings between the First Minister, Plaid’s leader Ieuan Wyn Jones and the leader of the Lib Dems, Kirsty Williams.
In fact he spoke to them both immediately after yesterday’s vote and further meetings are planned for next week.
There have also been ‘chats’ between the opposition leaders this week with a view to holding discussions next week.
That’s because, talks – such as they were – may be over between the Conservatives and Labour, but the joint work of the united opposition goes on.
I’m told by the other parties that ‘nothing has changed’ in the relations between the three. Researchers are working together ‘on various ideas’ about what can be delivered.
Andrew RT Davies has said publicly that he fully expects one of the other two to reach a deal with Labour on the budget and wouldn’t blame them either.
But he sees the working relationship which has been established as vital for the long term to demonstrate that ‘we CAN work as a block when we NEED to work as a block.’
And over the next few years, as Carwyn Jones’ Labour government trying to push through spending plans and legislation without a majority of votes, that’s what might turn out to be really significant.