Liz Silversmith gives an insight on how the manifestos for the Assembly elections in May are being developed.
Andrew RT Davies and Leanne Wood arguing over ‘rainbow coalitions’ this early in campaigning is no bluster. The Welsh Conservatives know, as do Plaid, that their best chance of government is in partnership with another party, either with each other or with Welsh Labour. Unless Labour manage a positive swing, they will need either a coalition or another minority government where budgets are passed with the assistance of an opposition party. It is against this backdrop that manifestos are being put together. Even if the parties don’t admit it in public, the policies may be subject to coalition negotiations, which certainly makes it more likely that different kinds of pledges may be in the next Programme for Government.
For Welsh Labour, the Manifesto Coordinator is Ken Skates AM. A Deputy Minister who has held the Skills & Technology brief and now the Culture, Sport & Tourism portfolio, Skates is working with Campaign Coordinator Huw Irranca-Davies MP and the First Minister with his ‘Carwyn Connects’ town hall events to put together a winning manifesto. Embarking on a public consultation, Labour have a slightly confusingly titled ‘The Wales We Want’ document which outlines key themes: a ‘Prosperous and Secure Wales’, a ‘Healthy and Active Wales’, an ‘Ambitious and Learning Wales’ and a ‘United and Connected Wales’. It is confusing because there was another public consultation undertaken earlier in 2015 called ‘The Wales We Want’ in order to inform the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. The categories are also very similar to the ‘Wellbeing Goals’ that are prescribed under the Act. However they do cover policy areas, as they are matched, respectively, to the economy, health, education and having a ‘long-term vision’ for Wales.
The document very much echoes Ministerial dialogue over the last few years and outlines policy initiatives already achieved; interestingly it also uses the term ‘Welsh Parliament’ instead of ‘Welsh Assembly’ throughout, indicating a forthcoming change in political nomenclature. It does not allude to many new policies, and forms more of a reiteration of Bills from the last Assembly. The only hint of tax policy is that it needs to be for ‘values of fairness and sustaining public services provision’ and ‘not a low tax regime that leads of further cuts in public services.’ This consultation closes in October, with the National Policy Forum meeting to discuss it on 22nd November. Perhaps more concrete policy will emerge then.
The Welsh Conservatives have a different approach. They’ve been holding roundtable meetings with organisations and are currently honing in on a policy focus. Suzy Davies AM has been coordinating and they’ve emphasised that they are, unsurprisingly, focusing on health, education and the economy (the main areas where the Welsh Government drives direction, rather than needing UK Government approval). The party have said they want to hear ideas that demonstrate a commitment to co-production rather than any extra spending by the government. ‘Localism’ and a more flexible balance between public, private and third sectors is likely to feature throughout their manifesto.
In terms of individual policies, the party spokespeople in the Assembly have been holding meetings within their own portfolio areas. The final document will be ready by the end of the year to go through internal party processes. In lieu of a Welsh Conservative autumn conference, Andrew RT Davies AM and the Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb, addressed the final day of the UK conference, and both men will have a focus on planning for the Assembly elections over the next few months.
Plaid Cymru has Elin Jones AM as Director of Policy coordinating their manifesto. They have launched their own consultation document, ‘A Road Map for Wales’, and held some public events in a roadshow with their Cabinet spokespeople. Emphasising the accessibility of Leanne Wood, they encourage discussions at events and on a one-to-one basis. Wood has also said Plaid would want the health and education portfolios in Welsh Government, indicating that these may be her ‘red lines’ in any coalition negotiations.
Plaid’s policies are categorised into ‘Getting Wealthier, Healthier, Smarter, Greener’ and ‘Being Compassionate and Fairer’. They’ve already made a fair few policy announcements such as establishing an arms-length company to run Welsh railways with public control and profits reinvested into lowering fares; a ‘Build 4 Wales’ scheme for infrastructure; a Welsh Development Bank; a £50m Drugs and Treatment Fund; a 10 year NHS workforce plan; integrated health and social services; a Green Skills College; 100% of electricity from renewables by 2035; rent controls; and a publicly owned energy company.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have a job to do in carving out their own identity to the electorate at large, so they can distance themselves from the failures of the UK Liberal Democrats. But they do have more say at the Assembly level, with their budget negotiations resulting in a policy of concessionary fares for 16-18 years olds becoming a reality in September. Coordinated by Peter Black AM, the party carried out a manifesto consultation over the summer and also held meetings with organisations. They will bring forward a motion at their one-day November conference over its key principles; these papers are already online and involve detailed suggestions on taxation policy, expanding the Pupil Premium, more investment in student hardship funds, grants and bursaries as well as improving standards for tenants and capping letting agency fees.
Finally, the Green Party and UKIP. The Greens are putting together a document called a ‘Policy for a Sustainable Society in Wales’. This will then be agreed at their November AGM and key parts of it used in their Assembly manifesto. For UKIP, former MP Mark Reckless is leading the way in terms of policy development. He’s also been confirmed to be going forward as an Assembly Candidate, spearheading the campaign alongside head of UKIP Wales, Nathan Gill. Given their anti-devolution stance, it will be interesting to see what they propose to do with devolved powers.