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Thursday, January 06, 2005

New Year surprises

The thing that really attracts me to politics is that every now and again events take a turn for the unexpected and the whole landscape starts to change. Thus the announcement by Welsh Conservative Leader, Nick Bourne, that he is after all in favour of full law-making powers for the Assembly was a welcome surprise. More interestingly it leaves the Wales Labour Party out on a limb. It now appears that three of the four major Welsh Parties want the Assembly to have these powers whilst the so-called party of the left, who we are told over and over again, delivered devolution for Wales, are back-tracking violently and are now advocating an unworkable compromise.

The other surprise buried in Mr. Bourne's announcement is his apparent conversion to coalition politics. Up until now the Tories have been adamant that they would not work as part of a coalition government with any other party. Today however, Nick Bourne is saying: "What concerns me very much is the need for there to be genuine competition in future Assembly elections, with the real possibility of an alternative government. One party rule at whatever level leads to stagnation and it is very important that the people of Wales have an opportunity of electing an administration that is alternative to Labour.

I am very hopeful that in 2007 we will be able to increase our representation in the Assembly, but it is unrealistic to expect us to win an overall majority. In these circumstances, we and other non-Labour parties should be prepared to be pragmatic and work with others to achieve an agreed programme. All the opposition parties already have common concerns, including the dire state of the health service.

The pure nationalism of Gwynfor Evans or the pure Conservatism of a Conservative thinker are not strictly relevant when considering what needs to be done. If we agree the current Labour administration is doing a lot of harm, surely it is our responsibility to put our differences aside and work together for the good of Wales."

This is earth-shattering stuff and must surely open up the possibility of a grand coalition of the opposition parties to oust Labour during this Assembly term. I still believe that there are a huge number of obstacles in its way, not least the difficulties of agreeing a common platform, and I am not one of its advocates, but one of the main barriers has been lifted with this statement from Nick Bourne.

This raises other questions, such as what is really going on behind the scenes? I have not been party to any discussions and when I have asked I have been told that there are none on-going with this aim in mind. Opposition parties are talking to each other about how to oppose the Government effectively but I am told that this is as far as it goes. Taking those assurances on face value I have concluded that this talk of a grand coalition has been sourced in a mixture of gossip, speculation and spin on the part of a number of interested individuals. The chances are that this is still the case but the stakes have now been raised considerably. How the situation develops from here is anybody's guess.

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