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Tuesday, March 08, 2005


The Western Mail reports this morning that the Welsh Liberal Democrats would consider a coalition with the Tories and Plaid Cymru in the National Assembly for Wales. Or, to be more precise, what the article says is that we have not ruled it out.

Now, I know how this came about. We have a weekly press conference and at that briefing somebody asked whether we would consider working in Government with the other two opposition parties. In response Jenny Randerson pointed out that we work within an electoral system that naturally gravitates towards coalition. She went on:

"If this issue were to arise, it would be something we would think about, because we are a realistic party that knows Wales has to be governed and the best form of government is some sort of majority government, in terms of providing some sort of stability for the Assembly. But it's not something we're looking at at the moment." The party's aim was to deliver as many of its policies as it could," she said. "We will not deviate in any way from that principle."

Strictly speaking this is perfectly correct, but there are other political agendas here. The Tory leader has been advocating this "Grand Alliance" for some time and I understand that there may have been conversations around the subject between party leaders. However, one thing is crystal clear. Such a coalition has not yet been discussed within the Liberal Democrat group and there would be significant resistance to it from a number of members.

Personally, I could not vote within the group for this and I would strongly speak against it there. A coalition at National Assembly level is completely different to one on a local Council. In local authorities you can largely put the philosophical differences to one side and work for the benefit of local people. The potential for conflict is lessened as a result. On a national level you cannot do this. A coalition of ideologically opposed parties could well fall apart whenever a disagreement on policy arose that was not covered by the Partnership Agreement. I may be proved wrong on that but I doubt it.

These conflicts caused problems in the Labour-Liberal Democrat Partnership in the last Assembly, and in that case we were two parties of the centre-left with some considerable common ground on policy and philosophy. That would not be the case working with the Conservatives. This cannot be a runner and we should not encourage it to be so.
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