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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Standing up for principle

In this morning's Western Mail, Jenny Randerson suggests that we might backtrack on demands for proportional representation in local government in any coalition deal. The paper records that when asked whether the Welsh Liberal Democrats are likely to insist on proportional representation in local government, she said, “PR is in our manifesto and it’s important to us, although the public are not that concerned about it.”

This is very similar to the line taken by Kirsty Williams over the weekend and it is deeply worrying. There is no doubt that the public care much more about the health service, education, transport and many other subjects far more than they do about constitutional issues such as how their Councillors are elected, but that should not diminish the importance of such a reform.

The fact is that changing the voting system for local authorities would fundamentally alter both their culture and the way that they interact with the public. In theory it should make them more responsive and more representative and this should lead to a corresponding improvement in services over a period of time.

The other reason to worry goes to the heart of the Welsh Liberal Democrats' present troubles. There is no doubt in my mind that one of the damaging factors for us in the election was the perception, rightly or wrongly, that our main concern was getting into power at any cost. No matter how vehemently we denied it, no matter how much we insisted that policy and principle took priority, people still believed that our prime concern was to get our backsides into ministerial limousines. This was especially so in respect of our group leader.

I have to say that this is both unfair and untrue but it existed nevertheless. It is one of the reasons why I believe that we need to stand aside from government this time and reaffirm our independence, our radicalism and our relevance. It is also one of the reasons why I believe that whoever leads us in the Assembly needs a fresh and early mandate from party members.

If we were to now go into coalition having effectively jettisoned or compromised on one of our core policies then I believe that we will be permanently damaged. No matter how unimportant PR in local government is to the person in the street, he or she will form the overwhelming impression that we are prepared to jettison our principles to get into the Cabinet. Such a move would underline the perception that we are self-seeking politicians who would sell our soul for power. It is why, of all our policies, we must not compromise on this one.
I am with Peter Black on not joining the Labour Party in a coalition. I don't see how that benefits the people of Wales for their future to be decided by small elites in Cardiff. I don't see how it benefits the Liberal Democrats by sacrificing long held beliefs so that we can support a party that believes that it has some “divine right” to rule. Labour does not believe in sharing power with anyone, and if they do, it's at a price. That is one we should not pay.

Compromise is one thing but surrender on basic principles is another. We must stand aside from government, and decide what do we stand for. What is our philosophy? Return to our liberal heritage of liberty and community. We cannot sacrifice our principles for places at the master's table, waiting for what scraps may come our way. We saw the kinds of scraps the last time. After the election we were shown the door and had our arses kicked on the way out. Lets not for forget that it was a coalition that destroyed the old Liberal Party in the 20s, and why because power was more important.

We need to rebuild our party. If it means going into the wilderness, iit's a learning experience. So be it. At least it can be seen that we have remained loyal to what we are as Liberals.

I can understand the leaders of the Lib Dem controlled authorities are opposed to a coalition. They have experienced what it is like to work (or not) with Labour. They do not. They opposed being part of an all party executive in Cardiff. All they want to do is play petty partisan games.

No one can fault Mike German and Jenny Randerson for what they did their hard work they did in Cardiff Central made a Lib Dem controlled council possible. Unfortunately Cardiff is a little more than Cardiff Central. Their vision did not extend into the rest of the city. I think their vision failed.

As far as the Assembly is concerned I think there are these possibilities.

1.A minority Labour government, working with other parties.
2.Rainbow coalition between Plaid, LD, and the Tories. (Glyn's vision).
3.A “Popular Front” style government going beyond party lines (Labour would not like that remind them too much of Ramsay MacDonald)
4.Plaid Labour
5.Plaid Tory

That's the options! Or just more elections. I believe the first is the most probable.
Peter, At last something that I can agree with you on!

I'm in favour of a coalition, as my criticism of your timing in questioning Mike's leadership may have suggested.

However, that coalition deal must, under all circumstances, involve a commitment to PR in local government. Given that our manifesto was tame rubbish, and any party can agree with any other party on most policy issues, this would be worth entering a coalition for.

Any coalition proposal without this commitment would not get through the special conference. Even with it in it would still not be certain.

My prediction is that Labour won't budge on this, especially now that you and others have weakened the Welsh Lib Dem's bargaining power. Mike will either then bring a lame coalition proposal to the conference that will be laughed out of the conference hall, or look to an informal deal, the worst of both worlds.

you are right Labour will not budge on it. The local Labour Jefe's would flay Rhodri alive.

I would comment more, except that my daughter in law is expecting a baby tonight, also talking of wind. I was just 25 miles from that tornado here in Kansas. So please keep a prayer for those poor folk.

Mike German said right at the start of the campaign that PR in local government was "unfinished business". I should like to think he still believed that.

Your report, that Kirsty no longer feels that PR is important, worries me. I seem to recall that she also supported the Wanless report, which involved closing local hospitals.

Is this a person who should be leading a communities-first party?

- Frank Little
Pontygwindy said: "you and others have weakened the Welsh Lib Dem's bargaining power."

On the contrary, I believe Peter's comments, together with those of other activists who will be battling Labour in local council elections next year, have strengthened Mike's hand. Labour will know that the party is behind a tough line on an agreed programme.

- Frank Little
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