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Friday, October 21, 2016

Why another Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition would be bad for Wales

As Plaid Cymru gather in Llangollen for their annual conference all the media speculation centres on whether they will finally bite the bullet and enter into another formal coalition with Labour in the Welsh Assembly.

One of the reasons Dafydd Elis Thomas walked away from Plaid was his perception that they are not serious about exercising power and their failure to form such an alliance. He certainly has backers for that view remaining within his former party.

The BBC quote Leanne Wood as saying that there is "ongoing discussion" about whether it  is better to formally share power, with members genuinely torn over the "dilemma". Plaid Cymru AM Neil McEvoy, who came close to unseating Leanne Wood from the top of the South Wales Central list, confirms this when he says that the agreed official position is against coalition and "reports to the contrary surprise me".

Of course what Plaid Cymru and Labour do is up to them but there are minuses as well as advantages to having a 'stable' government coalition consisting of two thirds of the Welsh Assembly's members.

The big disadvantage from my point of view would be inadequate scrutiny of Welsh Government policies and legislation. At the moment the opposition is fairly diverse, with the Tories and UKIP opposing from the right and Plaid Cymru largely from the left. The only liberal voice has been subsumed into the government but Dafydd Elis Thomas himself may be able to provide that in future.

To have the government solely scrutinised from a right wing perspective may well suit some members of Labour and Plaid but it would severely diminish the quality of debate in the chamber and committee rooms. We would lose a plurality of representation within the opposition that currently benefits our democratic process.

That was not a problem during the 2007-2011 One Wales Government of course because the Welsh Liberal Democrats provided that left-leaning, liberal input into debate and scrutiny. It would not be available in the fifth Assembly.

The second disadvantage of such a coalition is that it would give the Government a free pass on the work of building a consensus for their work within the chamber and in the country.

At the moment, if Carwyn Jones wants to get something through he has to work with others and achieve a sort of consensus. In a mega-coalition that debate would be internalised, it would become less of a discussion and more of a whipping exercise.

That is not healthy for democracy nor does it help to advance the cause of devolution in a country that prides itself on a more consensual approach than Westminister. Having to win support for your policies from your opponents so as to get them through can bring a type of democratic discipline to government that is discarded by those Ministers who can rely on an automatic majority to get things through.

The current make-up of the Assembly chamber may not be comfortable for the Welsh Labour Government not does it provide the sort of certainty that some stakeholders would wish, but it does ensure that Welsh democracy remains interesting, accountable and transparent. That is surely a good thing and it would be a shame if it were lost.

I'm not sure whether Dafydd Elis Thomas could be relied upon to put forward a liberal viewpoint in the Senedd. In the 1980's he described himself as a Marxist, and was very close to Irish Republican prisoners and politicians.

Fast forward to 2016. By now he is not only an AM, an ex leader of Plaid, an ex-Llywydd of the Assembly, he is also a Peer of the Realm, a Queen's Privy Counsellor, and he happily counts himself among the Prince of Wales' friends and one of his greatest admirers. He is well and truly an establishment figure.

Liberal ?? I'm not sure. He seems to be a classic chameleon - he seems to be all things to all men. Political principles however have long been thrown overboard.

In fact he seems very close to Neil Hamilton these days. He might just join UKIP.

I've known him for 17 years he is a world away from UKIP. He is though a small 'l' liberal who holds many views in common with the Liberal Democrats irrespective of labels he adopted in the past.
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