Chasing Rainbows

Plaid are right to rule out a coalition with the Tories, but for the wrong reasons, says Daran Hill

The decision by Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood to rule out working with the Welsh Conservatives in government next May is absolutely politically sound. It’s just the way Plaid is expressing it that’s politically ludicrous.

This week Andrew RT Davies attacked that decision for denying the people of Wales a chance to have an alternative government to Labour. His assertion is that, as in 2007, the opposition parties in the Assembly could come together in 2016 and paint another rainbow. I can only assume that Andrew is taking this stand in order to paint Plaid as not really an opposition to Labour, thereby strengthening the Conservative claim to the real opposition to Labour in Wales, rather than because he believes a rainbow is possible. He’s an astute enough man to know it is not.

This is not 2007. Indeed, there are to my mind five key reasons as to why a rainbow is virtually impossible to achieve.

Firstly, the thing that brought the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru close enough in 2007 to even begin serious talks wasn’t just the fact that Labour was in government in Cardiff Bay, it was that they were in government in Westminster too. Those two factors need to be present in order to urge close co-operation, let alone coalition. Without a Labour government in Westminster to rail at, half the reason to work together is simply not there.

Secondly, there is an ideological chasm between the opposition parties in the Assembly didn’t exist in 2007. Plaid has moved further to the left, and the Conservatives further to the right, and both groups are simultaneously led by figures from the extreme side of that left/right divide. Where on earth is the political common ground other than a dislike of Labour? Quite frankly, many in Plaid dislike the Conservatives even more these days, and that will only increase if Jeremy Corbyn gets crowned.

Aligned to this, there is absolutely no chemistry and trust between the opposition leaders. This was a crucial component of the 2007 possibility, and it took years to develop. I know: I both watched it happen and am one of a tiny number of people to have read then Conservative leader Nick Bourne’s daily diary of that period. There was genuine affection, liking and positive assessment between Bourne, Mike German and Ieuan Wyn Jones. The same cannot in any way be said of Leanne and Andrew. Further, the relationship between him and Kirsty has hardly become closer during a period when the Conservatives have mangled the Liberal Democrats on the UK stage.

Indeed, I am personalising the argument for a reason, because it is the positioning of personalities and individuals which poses the fourth barrier to a non-Labour government. Back in 2007 five women stood out in the Assembly against the rainbow – Leanne, Bethan Jenkins, Helen Mary Jones and Nerys Evans from Plaid, and Kirsty from the Lib Dems. In the Assembly elections in May, four out of those five are possibly to be returned. Two of them are now party leaders. Are the political events since the formation of a Conservative led government in 2010 really likely to have changed their minds?

Finally, and more debatable and fluid perhaps, is the issue of numbers. My gut feel is that with the arrival of UKIP in the Assembly in May that the three other non Labour parties simply won’t have over 30 seats required to form a government even if the other barriers can be overcome.

To my mind, the whole notion of the rainbow resurrected is simply colourful fantasy. It surprises me that Plaid just doesn’t simply say that rather than take the line which they have that the Conservatives don’t have a mandate in Wales. The Tories do. The Conservatives have more AMs than Plaid, nearly four times as many MPs, and beat Plaid on position in the Euro elections.

To suggest otherwise is both arrogant and misleading. Plaid Cymru, even when you make the right decision, you explain it in the most self deluded terms. It’s exactly like when you described UKIP as an anti-Welsh party and look where that got you. Plaid has no more the right to believe it is the definer of what is Welshness or what is a mandate than any other party.

Indeed, in Plaid’s arrogance in suggesting such an ability, the party it most closely resembles is the worst elements of Labour in Wales: Labour as monopoly definers of Welsh politics; the excluding rather than enabling Labour Party; the Labour which believes it is intelligent and the solution to everything just because it has power.

Plaid, you know that face of Labour. It is the image which Plaid despises almost as much as it hates the Conservative Party. The bit that would propel them into a rainbow if that were ever possible.

Which it isn’t. End of.

Daran Hill is MD of Positif.

12 thoughts on “Chasing Rainbows

  1. Daran’s dislike of Plaid is evident in this badly-written piece (especially the last two paragraphs).

    I don’t believe that Plaid Cymru claims to be “the definers of Welsh politics”. However, it is the only party that can claim to speak exclusively for Wales, as it is answerable only to the Welsh electorate. The other parties are wedded to Westminster and Anglo-centric unionism. Conveniently he omits mentioning that fact.

    Daran fails to tell us of Labour’s visceral hatred of Plaid, particularly at the grassroots level, as visceral as its hatred of the SNP.

    In my opinion, Plaid needs to eschew formal coalitions with any of them, as they oppose the fundamental reason for Plaid’s existence, which is that Wales ~ the people who live here ~ of whatever ethnicity, place of birth, language or religion, will be better off governed by their peers, not from elsewhere. A semi-colonial status doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for us. Thirty-one per cent of our children are defined as in poverty. That is an absolute scandal, the worst in western Europe. The unionist parties, all three of them, are responsible for Wales’ relative poverty.

    Plaid’s coalition with Labour was extremely damaging to the party, responsible for its lack of headway in subsequent elections, and therefore to its aim of achieving self-government/independence. Another coalition could well spell its demise. Plaid’s appeal has to be broad enough to attract people across the political spectrum who endorse its unique selling point.

  2. The lesson of recent politics in Wales or the UK seems to be that no-one should want to be the junior partner in a coalition. It did Plaid no good and it almost wiped out the Libdems. I do not know why the public decided that coalition failings were the fault of the junior party but there it is. It follows that Plaid should ally with neither Labour nor Conservatives. If it became the second party again – of which there is no sign – it could and should offer a coalition with the Tories with itself as senior partner. Leanne is foolish to exclude that remote possibility though it might be foolish of the Tories to accept. At present the only candidate for coalition with Labour is the Libdems. They will be down to a couple of seats and have nothing much to lose anyway. Kirsty may as well get a shot as a Minister before her party disappears since she is evidently more dynamic and competent than most of the Labour Cabinet. However if she is on her own she won’t be much use to Labour in securing a majority. It looks like minority government for Wales .

  3. I’d be interested to know, Daran, exactly what you think the outcome of the Assembly elections will be. I don’t mean how many seats each party will win but how we will be governed and by who.

    I’ll take it as read that UKIP will take regional seats and therefore that the three parties most dependent on regional representatives will lose out overall.

    I’ll also assume that Labour will not be the majority party….but not far off.

    So, in your opinion, will Labour form a minority government or will they form a full coalition, and, if so who with?

  4. J.jones. Labour will form a minority government. The LibDems will be too few to give them a majority. A few people in Plaid would accept a coalition, like Lord Ellis Thomas, and Leanne might be tempted. But wiser voices will prevail and Plaid will remain aloof. Labour members would not accept any understanding with the Conservatives or UKIP.

  5. I suspect that more important than accurate analysis of the rationale behind political choices is the message that Plaid wants to give to potential voters, namely in the valleys, that Plaid will not support the Tories. When political parties attempt to present a nuanced and even intellectually honest position to the public, it ends up being open to interpretation and thus misinterpreted in a number of ways. Once that process begins, the message is lost.

    Daran is right about thing, though I think he overmakes the point, which is the mistake Plaid made in describing UKIP as unWelsh. If we are serious about building a civil society in Wales, then we do not start from a basis of deciding who is Welsh and who isn’t. The basis is that all political views are part of the Welsh body politic. The extent to which they are part of the body politic is determined by the electorate. If Plaid wishes to attack UKIP, it needs to do so by showing that their policies would be damaging to the Welsh economy and Welsh jobs. I think that Leanne Wood scored highly when she attacked Nigel Farage on his divisive remarks about immigration and HIV during the election debates and won the first round of applause of that particular night. However, it is no longer a current issue. We have heard no further talk of unWelshness since that unfortunate remark and subsequently Leanne Wood went to 10 Downing Street with Nigel Farage with a petition about the inequity of the Westminster electoral system. Lesson learnt I think.

    What all political parties need to consider is the changing face of the Conservative Government in Westminster who only today have announced considerable new investment in Faslane. It is a deliberate challenge to the SNP and a reminder of who still holds power on such issues and it is also an attempt to divide the Labour Party on the issue of the nuclear deterrent. Electing Jeremy Corbyn will resolve that particular issue but will demonstrate how marginalised English Labour are from the mainstream of power in Westminster. The Conservatives are back on the offensive, in more ways than one, and neither Plaid nor Labour should forget that.

  6. Thanks for the responses. Having tried to cram quite a lot in to this piece, I’ve not mentioned either “Anglo-centric unionism” or “Labour’s visceral hatred of Plaid”. The only convenience in those omissions is they are both bleeding obvious and not relevant to the core argument which I was trying to develop.

    I’m surprised people seem to be distracted away from the central thrust of the article which was why a rainbow is impossible. Nobody seems to be tackling me on that. Maybe nobody other than Conservative press officers really buy the rainbow as a possibility either.

    With regard to the shape of a government post May, and without the rainbow being possible, I will share my thoughts in an article here rather than try and deal with it through comments. My views aren’t a million miles from Dave’s, though he obviously won’t see it that way when I publish.

  7. Perhaps instead of childish posturing (wicked tories, austerity etc), now we know what Leanne will not do, can she please tell us what she will do?

  8. The problem is, taking as a given that grass root Plaid supporters hate Labour (very little Plaid time is taken up on the Tory party or the “unWelsh”) and that Labour have a “visceral hatred” of Plaid, how would Plaid and Labour supporters feel about a coalition?

    Coalitions result in the minority party getting their way on issues that are dear to their hearts but are actually anathema to many people. One more Plaid/Labour coalition may be a trigger for “a plague on both their houses” reaction in Wales. Should Plaid, the fourth party in Wales, really drive any policy at all?

  9. There are parts of Plaid that hate Labour and vice versa. I do not think that in either party they are in the majority. The Conservstive Government is the common enemy.

  10. By ruling out any sort of deal with the tories, Leanne Wood has explicitly declared to the people of Wales that Labour will be in Government next Assembly.

    Whilst we know she won’t be First Minister as Plaid won’t have the most AMs, by ruling out a deal with the Tories, she has also completely undermined her message that she can be the next First Minister. Weird.

    I appreciate it’s a lose-lose situation whichever decision she made, but I think she made the wrong one. I’m surprised Daran thinks otherwise. Other than that, I agree with the piece.

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