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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More on the budget

This morning's Western Mail contains more details on yesterday's budget shenanigans including the fact that Rhodri Morgan's threat to resign if his budget was not passed rapidly evaporated when he realised that the opposition might call his bluff and information about Plaid Cymru's own vacilliations, which has undermined what credibility they might have as an opposition and a potential alternative government:

In an extraordinary day at the Senedd, the minority Labour administration tabled a new Budget after failing to reach agreement with the opposition. The opposition said they would vote it down and appeared to say they would form a coalition government of their own if Rhodri Morgan resigned as First Minister.

Yet hours later Plaid Cymru issued a statement ruling out the prospect of any such coalition, attracting allegations from the other opposition parties that their leader had 'bottled out'.

The sticking point remains the money being held back from schools by the Assembly Government and the growing funding gap in Welsh higher education in comparison to England. Although, the Government claim that they have done everything they can, the fact is that Labour did not talk until very late in the day and when it came to the crunch they allowed their obsession with exposing a mythical opposition coalition get in the way of what is best for Wales.

Plaid Cymru did not cover themselves in any glory on this issue either, as the paper makes clear:

Asked if they would form a coalition government of their own if Mr Morgan resigned following a Budget defeat, the three opposition leaders all appeared to suggest that they would.

Welsh Conservative Assembly leader Nick Bourne said, 'We would have no option, we would have a constitutional duty to do that. We are not going to blink on this. He [Mr Morgan] has got to come forward with money.'

Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones said, 'There's no way in the world we would allow the Assembly to be ungoverned and we want to make sure that the Assembly has a Budget.'

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Mike German said, 'All the balls in this case are within Labour's court. It is absolutely the case that the Government have now decided that they are not prepared to meet the demands of the National Assembly of Wales in these crucial areas of education.'

Shortly afterwards, Mr Morgan's spokeswoman said the First Minister would not quit if the Budget was voted down.

'There is no question of the First Minister resigning,' she said. 'It's for the opposition parties to decide their next course of action.'

Hours later a press release from Plaid Cymru angered the two other opposition parties because it explicitly ruled out a coalition.

A senior Tory source said, 'It looks as if Ieuan has been lent on by other members of his group and has bottled out. You have to be prepared to stand firm and not blink.

'Ieuan is making it look as if he isn't interested in getting the top job [of First Minister]. Doesn't Plaid want to be in government?'

A Liberal Democrat source said, 'Ieuan appears to have bottled it. But so far as the Budget is concerned, I believe the Government will budge further. Rhodri doesn't want to quit and Labour will come up with the money.'

What this illustrates above anything else is why a rainbow coalition of the opposition parties is such an unlikely prospect after the next election. Plaid Cymru are badly divided and their leadership is weak. They do not have the discipline to be an effective opposition let alone a government. The Tories have hardly set an example for the others on key votes either.

With Gordon Brown due to announce more money for Wales later today the solution to the budget crisis appears fairly simple. However, I suspect the fact the Government tabled their budget early means that they have other plans for the money. That is something they might have to compromise on.

Update: The Chancellor of the Exchequer's largesse means that an additional £9 million is coming to Wales. Meanwhile the Welsh Local Government Association has disparaged the Government's idea that other local authority services should be top-sliced so as to meet the shortfall in schools funding caused by WAG's own policies. They quite rightly point out that £15 million has been held back from schools by the Government and that local Councils should not be left to pick up the tab so as to get Labour out of a tight corner in Cardiff Bay.

Commenting on the Chancellor's statement, Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Leader, Mike German points out that the chancellor’s £9m is not enough to solve the problem, but it gives us some wriggle room.

“I hope that Labour will use this to re-open talks with all parties so we can agree a budget which ensures our teachers won’t see their jobs axed, and that students in our universities are not at a disadvantage compared with those in England. The ball is firmly in Labour’s court. Welsh Liberal Democrats remain committed to negotiating a budget which can be agreed by a majority in the National Assembly.”
Very funny article you really are on a roll at the moment. Actually the first Minister made it clear he was not going to resign so the issue of the coalition is irrelevant. Still you can use this as an excuse when you prop up a lame duck Labour administration after next May...:)
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