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.