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Friday, October 07, 2005

Tactics

A couple of interesting blog posts has set me thinking about Labour's current tactics. Since 1999 Labour have been on the back foot regarding the Welsh Nationalists. Unexpectedly, they lost some of their safest seats and failed to get the majority they had anticipated in the first National Assembly. The fight back for them has been long and hard. The Labour politicians in the front line of that struggle have been the most vehement about Plaid's failings. They have organised leaflet drops and canvassing, they have dug deep for dirt and they have taken every opportunity to expose every possible Nationalist failing. This is the price you pay for daring to challenge Labour's hegemony in Wales.

With Plaid Cymru seemingly in disarray and slipping in the polls, Labour believe that they are at last getting the upper hand. Their problem however is that the other two parties are also pushing them hard. They have lost control of four major Councils to coalitions led by the Liberal Democrats, whilst the Tories took three seats off them in the General Election. They have also lost their majority in the National Assembly with the defection of Peter Law to the opposition. The danger for them is that they will not regain that majority in 2007 and may even lose ground to opposition parties in that election. Now they cannot even get their budget through the Assembly without a process of negotiation and concession.

One of the tactics Labour are adopting in an effort to avoid this fate is to change the electoral rules in their favour. They believe that if they prevent established list AMs from standing in marginal constituencies then they may be able to hold onto them. They have also resorted to seeking out the old pre-1999 certainties that served them so well. They reason that Wales is as rabidly anti-Tory as they are and would do everything possible to prevent the Conservatives ever getting their hands on the levers of power. They may be right.

Accordingly, they are starting to talk the Tories up once more and are seeking to portray them as the main threat. Plaid Cymru have become the lesser evil. They are now to be portrayed as Nationalist Tories, a party who can no longer win power under their own steam but who will put the Tories in charge of Wales so as to get a share of the cake for themselves.

Thus it is that the Natwatch site yesterday virtually quoted in full the speech delivered by Welsh Tory Leader, Nick Bourne, to his Conference this week:

The nationalists' in-fighting, shambolic policy agenda and chaotic leadership is giving the Welsh Conservatives a golden opportunity in the run-up to the next assembly elections, Nick Bourne AM says.

The Mid and West Wales AM accused Plaid of offering "tired opposition" and predicted that the Welsh Conservatives will overtake the nationalists in 2007.

Mr Bourne claims that Plaid has taken its rural heartlands for granted for too long - insisting that conservative-minded voters are looking for a credible alternative to Labour.

And he insists that Plaid has proved itself ill-equipped to offer the strong opposition, proper scrutiny and new ideas needed to challenge Labour.

Rather strangely, Leighton Andrews AM has taken to putting forward similar arguments on his blog. His budget speech underlined Labour's new tactics for 2007:

What is happening today, of course, is that the opposition is kicking off the 2007 election campaign 18 months early. I think that we are entitled, therefore, to reflect on what is likely to be the main opposition in 2007. I only heard two serious speeches today from the opposition benches, and they came from the Tory Party. We know that they have led the opposition today.

This is what is happening today: the Tories are the real opposition in the Assembly, and Plaid Cymru is following their every word.


Today, the Tories are preparing the way for their role as the main opposition after 2007. We all saw Nick Bourne on that well-known BBC programme, ‘Smug on Sunday’. We all know that he is the organ grinder today, and he has a right gang of monkeys to play with. Nick Bourne and Ieuan Wyn Jones—Wales’s worst nightmare made flesh; not so much a coalition of the willing as a coalition of the chilling. They do not want to be caught together, though. It is like that old song by the Police—‘Don’t stand, don’t stand so close to me’. This is Plaid Cymru’s last stand; we all know that there will be a new leader of the opposition in 2007, and he is sitting on the Tory benches. His name is Glyn Davies.

How the public will react to these tactics is difficult to say. The evidence of the General Election is that uniform swings and momentum no longer applies in the same way. People are increasingly voting for different reasons in different parts of the Country. We are not so much getting regional trends as sub-regional trends.

In an Assembly election, where turnout is lower and people will be more relaxed about abandoning long-held allegiances, individual constituencies and regions could see some unpredictable results. The signs are that Plaid Cymru will be less of a beneficiary of those voting patterns than the Liberal Democrats, Tories and Independents, but if Labour is to hold on in its marginals it will have to dig deep locally rather than rely on the Welsh media and party loyalties as they have done in the past. The Tory scare tactics will be a key part of their local campaigning as will the negative tactics Labour have borrowed from America.

For a minority of the electorate this sort of partisan and essentially destructive approach will strike a chord and they will think twice before abandoning their previous support for Labour. Others however, will look for positive messages. They will want to see what the other parties have to offer before they vote and will treat Labour's sterile tactics with suspicion. They will consider that parties working together for the benefit of Wales may actually be a good thing.

Personally, I do not believe that people are yet ready for a Tory-led coalition government in Wales and that such a creature would require so many fundamental compromises in terms of political philosophy and principles by other parties that it would prove impractical and undesirable. I also believe that assumptions that the Tories will be second party in Wales could yet prove to be wide of the mark. If the General Election result were to be repeated in 18 months time then it will be the Welsh Liberal Democrats who will be competing strongly for that status.

What we are feeling our way towards now, is a wholly different creature - a National Assembly with a minority government moderated by opposition votes whenever they can achieve a consensus amongst themselves.

That solution may not appeal to anybody but it is workable if people don't get too hung up about control, it is fairly transparent, it is a model that requires parties to work together in the best interests of the nation and it ensures that public opinion has a greater say in government decisions. For all Labour's scaremongering it may be this scenario that they face again after 2007 rather than the Tory bogeyman that they would prefer. Such is the nature of pluralist politics in the twenty first century.
Comments:
This is an interesting analysis, but it raises a fundamental issue concerning Lib Dem politics, particularly in Wales.

In Cardiff (and perhaps other areas of Wales) the Lib Dems have taken control of the Council, but do not seem to be exercising power.

After about a year since the local elections, there is still no clear Lib Dem strategy of what they are going to deliver for the people of Cardiff.

Decisions are being left un-made as the leadership struggle to move from a party of opposition (at which they are skilled exponents) to one of control.

For too long the Lib Dems in Cardiff managed to present themselves through both the media and their own leafleting as the friend of everyone. Now the voters of Cardiff have called their bluff and they will need to start making some decisions (and inevitably start making some enemies.)
 
Your points do not surprise me as you are a Labour activist in Cardiff but I would disagree with you. The first point to bear in mind is that Liberal Democrats do not have a majority on Cardiff Council and so are unable to do everything that they want.

Secondly, it seems to me that not only has their period of control so far been sure-footed but it is also beginning to reap benefits for the electorate in terms of additional investment in education and the bringing to completion of projects started prior to 2004.

It does take time to turn a Council around but the Liberal Democrats in Cardiff are getting there. This also seems to be the view of the electorate as evidenced by the swings to the party across the City in the General Election.
 
Ok, so let’s turn our attention to the lack of Lib Dem achievement in Swansea.

The city and the surrounding areas are absolutely filthy. I’ve just come back from the University, and the amount of rubbish on the roads, on the pavements, on grass verges is absolutely disgraceful.

The city is starting to look like a ghost town. You have no imagination, you abandon major projects, the old David Evans building – and what it’s been turned into, is just an absolute joke.

The Lib Dems have also raised the charges on the student car park. From preaching about student debt, the Lib Dems in Swansea have the ability to ease a cost on student, but instead, they have raised the cost to park there. Disgraceful.

Power comes with responsibility. As far as I can see, you take no responsibility for what is currently going on in Swansea. The sooner the people of Swansea realise that they’ve made one hell of a mistake in electing a bunch of armature spin surgeons, who lack substance, the better for all of us.
 
Martyn, you have a peculiarly student-centred approach to local politics. Parking charges are the downside to owning a car. The demand is large so the spaces have to be rationed somehow. Why should students be any different to anybody else in that regard?

I dispute the claim that the City is any more filthy than before 2004. In fact more money has been put into cleansing by the new Administration and stiff penalties have been introduced to clamp down on those who cause this mess.

The City Centre is very much how we inherited it. We are bringing projects to completion which started before we were elected and we are putting together a new City Centre strategy, which will be in place by the end of the year I understand. We did not so much abandon the Castle Quays project as recognise that it was already dead and buried. We are expecting a planning application for the replacement scheme for David Evans within the next 6 to 8 weeks and we are hopeful of finally getting the bus station redevelopment underway.

There is plenty of substance in what we are doing as you will see in the next two years as projects come on line. We take responsibility for what is our doing and we will continue to do so. As for the verdict of the people, well we will see what happens in 2008.
 
“Why should students be any different to anybody else in that regard?” in that case, why do you oppose top-up fees, with students themselves paying it after the graduate?

The £1 a day parking charge was agreed jointly, as I understand it, in 2003 by the University, Students Union and Labour controlled Local Authority. As far as I know, there has been no consultation with the University or SU in increasing the charge this year.

The demand is large, yes, but there certainly isn’t a lack of space. Space rationalisation is a feeble excuse for not answering my question.

I will be writing a letter to the Vice Chancellor, Director of Estates and the new Student Union president (who might take more interest in these issues than the last one) to see what can be done to lower the cost burden on those of us who commute to university on a daily basis.

Maybe you could go for a ride up the Swansea Valley on the A474 between Ynysforgan and Clydach and then tell me that there isn’t a rubbish problem! A child’s playhouse has been on the grass verge just before you come to Junction 45 of the M4 for about 3 weeks now!
 
Peculiarly interest? I don’t live in Swansea; I attend university there, so my interest in local politics in Swansea is going to be on issues that affect me as a student! What’s so peculiar about that?
 
If there is tipping in Ynysforgan then I take it that as a responsible citizen that you have reported it. If not then e-mail me the exact location and I will have it removed.

Your point presumably is that this would have been handled better 18 months ago. There is no evidence to support this. What evidence there is demonstrates the opposite, that things are getting better.
 
Why do you find it strange that Leighton Andrews makes similar arguments to Natwatch?
Most of us have accepted that Natwatch's author is Leighton's Researcher.

As a disillusioned Labourite I agree with you that we are looking for a credible vehicle for our values. However, no other Party is credible. David Jones is right about Lib Dems - Cardiff hated Russell goodway and let in Rodney Berman - he's just Goodway with knobs on.
 
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