Politics in 21st century Wales

John Osmond reports on some remarkable insights into the future of Welsh politics:

Proportional representation in local government elections is needed to revive Labour’s fortunes in rural west Wales, says First Minister Rhodri Morgan in his contribution to a new book Politics in 21st Century Wales, published today by the IWA and the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University.

Rhodri Morgan argues that, for Labour, the most urgent lesson from the May 2007 elections was its need “to renew itself in west Wales” from which it has retreated in recent elections, losing seats to both the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru. As he writes:

“The reason why I think it absolutely essential that we turn our minds again, as a party, to winning in the west is the simple recognition that, as far as the Assembly is concerned at least, without winning in the west, Labour cannot win Wales.”

The First Minister argues that the impression Labour has sometimes given as being reluctant advocates for the Welsh language, reluctant on more powers for the Assembly, and reluctant exponents of Welsh identity have allowed party to be portrayed as ‘London-dominated’, with the Conservatives, in particular, repositioning themselves as more pro-Welsh than Labour. To rebuild he says Labour should start with creating a platform in local government in west Wales. He argues that:

”The only way in which that this going to happen is through proportional representation – a form of election which would, undoubtedly, improve our representation in counties such as Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Ynys Môn and Gwynedd.”

In his contribution to the book Conservative Assembly leader Nick Bourne argues that the present Assembly structure is a “political fix” and says the Richard Commission proposals, advocating a Scottish-style Parliament for Wales, were “a missed opportunity to seek to build a consensus”. He argues that the present system in which legislative powers are drawn down to the Assembly via Legislative Competence Orders granted by the Westminster Parliament is “devolution by the back door”. He says, “It would have been much better to go straight to the people and hold a referendum on proper powers.”

Plaid Cymru’s Carmarthen East MP Adam Price speculates that a coalition government between his party and the Conservatives is a real prospect following the 2011 Assembly election. He argues:

“A nationalist-Tory coalition would still seem counter-intuitive, though the shock factor will be greatly diminished by the near-precedent in 2007.”

He says for Plaid Cymru to support Labour as a junior partner might take a commitment to a job rotation as First Minister, with the Plaid leader taking over for the second half of the term.

Kirsty Williams, the Liberal Democrat AM for Brecon and Radnor, says her party should be much more ambitious in its target for winning Assembly seats. She says Liberal Democrats must project a message that provokes a “gut-level, emotional response” from the electorate:

“However, as a Group in the Assembly we have failed to do that. We haven’t given people a gut feeling. In our attempts to make our appeal as broad as we can we have failed to stamp our mark.”

The four authors were asked to consider the future of their parties in the context of coalition politics that seem here to stay following the May 2007 Assembly election. They were asked to address:

1. The experience of the May 2007 election and the two months of coalition negotiations that followed.

2. Future prospects for coalition government in Wales.

3. The forthcoming Convention and how they see events unfolding towards a referendum on further powers.

4. The changing political culture of Wales and how the parties can help promote the engagement of the electorate in politics and political debate more widely.

In his introduction to the book Anthony Barnett, Editor of the global website openDemocracy.net remarks, “I doubt if the Westminster leaders are capable of producing a cross-party book of essays as reasoned, careful and thoughtful as this.”

Politics in 21st Century Wales (available to order online from the IWA at £10 plus £1.50 P&P;) is the second in a new Cardiff Bay Papers series being published jointly by the Institute of Welsh Affairs and the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University. The first in the series Unpacking the Progressive Consensus, an analysis of the philosophy underpinning the One Wales coalition between Labour and Plaid Cymru Welsh Assembly Government, was published earlier in November.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA.

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