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Monday, November 28, 2005

Budget deal possible

Today's Western Mail reports that extra cash for pensioners could clinch agreement tonight between Rhodri Morgan and the opposition party leaders over next year's Assembly budget. They believe that Labour will suggest a £100 payment to all pensioner households to offset the effects of council tax rebanding. This offer will be made, they say, in response to opposition demands that taxpayers in Wales should be assisted with the impact of revaluation following the abandonment of a similar exercise in England.

Of course any deal will have to accomodate the other demands in the amendment to the draft budget as well, namely adequate provision for a small schools fund, to begin to address the historic funding gap between universities in England and Wales, to include adequate provision to develop Wales' railway system and to help frontline education services.

It would be nice to be able to confirm or deny this story but it is some time since the Liberal Democrats group had any update on these talks. The sharing of information with those who have to vote for or against this deal does not seem to be a priority. I suspect that other groups, not least Labour, have the same problem. However, it is worth noting the comments in the Western Mail's opinion column:

"By failing to offer anything to those hit by rocketing council tax bills following revaluation, Labour played into the hands of the opposition. If pensioners now benefit as a result of the brinkmanship, it will be difficult for Labour to claim the credit."

The piece talks about Labour's 'hubris' in failing to recognise the precarious position it was in after the 2003 Assembly elections and seeking 'to operate as if it had a majority comparable to that won by Labour at Westminster in 1997 and 2001.' They conclude:

"Coalition politics will be the order of the day at the Assembly and the sooner those parties that have yet to wake up to that fact do so the better. For Labour and the Conservatives, it means accepting the need to work with other parties on a permanent basis, and for Plaid Cymru it means maturing from a group more comfortable with the irresponsible certainties of student politics into a genuine party of potential government. The Liberal Democrats are ahead of the pack - on this issue at least."

We will see. The key to this whole coalition issue is the nature of the arrangement we are asked to enter into. I have already said that I believe that the present situation whereby a minority government is tempered by the opposition on issues where there is common ground is an acceptable alternative to a formal opposition coalition government. If Labour recognise that reality and work with it then it can be an enduring arrangement. However, formal coalitions require shared instincts and common approaches that will get them through matters unforeseen by a partnership agreement. That is why I cannot yet see any party that could enter into a formal coalition with the Welsh Conservatives and that is why I could not support such an arrangement for the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
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