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Friday, March 21, 2008

Spinning friction

There have been a lot of pieces in the Welsh media recently about supposed friction between Plaid Cymru and Labour, centring chiefly on the proposed referendum and the reluctance of most Labour MPs and some of their AMs to commit to a pre-2011 date. With local elections coming up Plaid strategists are keen to differentiate themselves from their government allies so as to keep their grass roots happy and to woo potential Labour-switchers.

Normal Mouth makes a very valid point in his latest Golwg article when he concludes that the Party of Wales' spinners have done a good job in creating the illusion of conflict so as to maintain their distinctiveness, whilst at the same time bedding down in government. Whether his conclusion that the One Wales government is stronger than ever holds up to scrutiny or not only time will tell. What is clear is that the game goes on, as is illustrated by this morning's Western Mail.

If the paper is to be believed members of First Minister Rhodri Morgan’s team are trying to undermine Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones:

One allegation is that the Plaid Cymru leader’s diary is being overloaded with engagements, so he is left with no time to think.

Another is that Deputy Regeneration Minister Leighton Andrews, the Labour AM for Rhondda, is letting it be known that although his responsibilities come within Mr Jones’s Economy and Transport portfolio, he does not regard the Plaid leader as his line manager.

Instead, Mr Andrews is said to be insisting on a direct report- ing line to the First Minister.

The allegations, which are strongly denied by the Assembly Government, come in the wake of tensions between Labour and Plaid over when a “Yes” campaign for the next devolution referendum should be set up.

A political source, who did not wish to be identified, told us, “Some members of the Civil Service believe that Ieuan Wyn Jones is being deliberately overloaded with diary engagements. There are days when he is working from 8am until 10pm. According to what is being said, the intention is to tie him down so much that he does not have time to think.

“As Deputy Regeneration Minister, Leighton Andrews is within Ieuan Wyn Jones’ Department of Economy and Transport. Yet civil servants say Leighton is making it clear that Ieuan is not his line manager, but that so far as he is concerned he reports directly to the First Minister.

“It seems there could be a subtle game going on, with an attempt to make sure Ieuan gets bogged down in a top-heavy schedule of engagements while having little time to reflect.”

Some Plaid strategists believe there is a 20% chance that those elements within Welsh Labour who would like to tear up the One Wales agreement and do a deal with the Liberal Democrats instead will succeed.

The crucial time will come with next year’s Welsh Labour leadership election to choose a successor to Mr Morgan.

Interesting as all of this is, one cannot help but feel that there is a certain amount of exaggeration and artificiality in these allegations. Nothing suits Plaid spin doctors more than to portray their ministers as being undermined by their Labour counterparts. Such a story fits very neatly within the narrative they are trying to spin. It also makes it easier for them to try and distance themselves from unpopular decisions in the future.

Unfortunately, for them it is not very convincing. The One Wales Government is a joint venture and both partners are in it for better and for worse. How that government performs will reflect on Plaid as well as Labour. They ain't getting away with it that easily.
Indeed not! Where I live, Plaid ditched their long-standing support of the minority Tory council administration about 4 months or so before they leapt into bed with Labour in the Senedd.

Let there be no doubt, Labour is presently Plaid's partner of choice.

Let's see how that goes down in north Wales (and Dinas Powys)!
Another odd story planted by Plaid spin merchants in today's Western Mail regarding the fact that the three Plaid ministers have been on the media more than their Labour counterparts. Plaid are trying to use this information to spin that they are somehow distinct from Labour in order to attract votes on May 1st. It probably also shows that Plaid are getting worried that they will make very little progress in May. Given the low poll ratings for Labour and the disillusionment of many traditional Labour voters Plaid should normally be confidnt of making major gains in a number of valley areas where they have previously controlled the council.If they fail to do this then this will see the splits increase as they realise that for most Labour members the coalition is a marriage of expediency not principle. Talk to any ordinary Labour member and you wil soon find that it is a minority who believe that a referndum before 2011 is a major issue.
As a Eurosceptic and smoker, I'll be voting none of the above.
The story on Leighton Andrews did not come from Plaid. I have a very clear idea as to who it did come from, however. It is nonsense, and another way to try and undermine the Government- or at least Plaid in Government...
“As Deputy Regeneration Minister, Leighton Andrews is within Ieuan Wyn Jones’ Department of Economy and Transport."

This is half the truth...he also "sits" within Brian Gibbons' Department of Social Justice and Local Government.
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