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Monday, September 18, 2006

More on coalitions

The ready availability of politicians at party conferences make then natural feeding grounds for political journalists just emerging from the bleak wasteland of the summer silly season. Thus it is that papers like the Western Mail have started to feature stories about coalitions once more, taken from a fact-correcting interview with Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Leader, Mike German.

Rather predictably, for face-saving reasons the paper cannot let go of its own speculative piece earlier in the summer, in which it suggested that talks have been going on between the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Labour and that cabinet places have already been allocated. The main problem with this piece is that in every aspect it is totally and absolutely untrue. The only thing that Labour and the Liberal Democrats agree on about this piece is that it was planted by the Tories to try and secure a political advantage.

In his interview Mike German again repeats the party's position that we will listen to what any potential partners have to say, with the only criteria being how much of the Welsh Lib-Dem manifesto could be implemented:

"The party's position is that we would work with other parties, and it would depend on the results of the election, and that's up to the people of Wales. We will listen to what the people have to say and what the parties have to say."

The only problem with this of course is that all things are not equal. In particular the prospect of going into a coalition led by a Tory First Minister (even if it is Glyn Davies) would not appeal to many, including some key Welsh Liberal Democrat AMs. The programme is important, but Mike knows as well as I do that instincts and principles are a vital part of any coalition.

There will always be issues that have not been anticipated and how you respond to those can mark out the tone of a partnership government. If there is not an instinctively left-of-centre, liberal approach to them then we will be doing our party and our liberalism a disservice.

We can always walk away from the coalition of course but, as we discovered the last time, that is not so easy. It becomes a matter of timing and of presentation. Would the public really understand if we broke up the partnership over a particular issue? The result is that you hedge a little and a little more. It is the nature of coalition politics.

I am not arguing that we should avoid this scenario next time just that if we have to compromise then we should do so in the context of a left-leaning partnership. Perhaps we should just stop talking about coalitions altogether and concentrate instead on promoting our own agenda.
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