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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The anxious First Minister

Rhodri Morgan expressed surprise yesterday that he has not yet been 'no-confidenced by the combined votes of the opposition. Quite why he should hold this view is in itself surprising.

The First Minister is clearly somebody who values the office he holds. He seems to believe that holding that office should be the objective of every party leader and I suspect that he is right in that assumption. However, the value of the office lies not in holding it but the terms on which you exercise the power that comes with it. That is why an alternative government has not and will not emerge before 2007 and why such a creature may prove difficult after the next Assembly elections.

Although Labour are hedged in by not having a majority they still have a fair amount of room to manoeuvre. With only a few exceptions all of the executive power is delegated to their ministers. In addition they know that there are only a limited number of measures on which the opposition parties can agree to unite over to defeat them. What the last six months have shown is that a minority government can work quite comfortably if Ministers are prepared to be inclusive and to make small concessions on their programme.

It is possible that Rhodri Morgan has not grasped that fact yet and that he is still stuck in a 'majority government mindset'. That is the Westminster culture in which he built his reputation and his career. Even in Westminster a minority government may work but it would be far more difficult. That is because there is more effective scrutiny on the principle and the minutae of legislation, more votes and less consensus on the policy agenda than there is in Wales.

As the Assembly acquires more powers and evolves into a legislature then minority government will become more difficult, but it will not be impossible. The centre-left majority here will ensure that consensus will still prove possible if Ministers continue to listen and avoid becoming too partisan or zealous in the way that they administer their briefs. Perhaps the surprise is that most Ministers have adjusted so easily to that way of working and that in doing so have ensured that there are more options facing the electorate in 2007 other than that of electing a majority government.
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