Friday, 29 June 2007

A stitch in time

There aren't many people left in Welsh politics who don’t think they’ve been stitched up by someone else over the past few weeks. We do, though, need to be careful about seeing the difference between a stitch-up and a cock-up (back to the two theories of history).

Ron Davies claims today that Plaid have been stitched up by Labour over the coalition agreement. I’m tempted to quote Mandy Rice-Davies, but that’s just too much of a cliché. If Labour fail to deliver on the all-important referendum, he may well be proved right – but I think I’d record an open verdict at this stage.

Some Labour AM’s are claiming to have been stitched up by Rhodri Morgan over the missing chapter in the agreement. I suspect that poor old Rhodri assumed that they’d have enough sense (will he never learn?) to realise that there was going to have to be a chapter on governance, and didn’t think it would be a big issue. Verdict – cock-up.

Plaid members across Wales are getting increasingly agitated about not having a proper choice when they meet next week, and are accusing the party's leaders of stitching up the meeting by denying them a vote on the rainbow. In truth, of course, the real stitch-up was the attempt to push the rainbow through with no other option available, and it is the chief stitcher-uppers who’ve really been caught out. Verdict – attempted stitch-up turned cock-up.

The Lib Dems, of course, probably have some justification for feeling stitched up, finding themselves left out in the cold, unloved and unwanted. But they have only themselves to blame… Verdict – stitch-up (self-inflicted).

Labour members opposed to the deal are claiming that the special conference is rigged in advance by union votes and they have no chance of influencing the outcome. But aren’t these the same people who just love the block vote when it goes their way? Verdict – stitch-up (self-inflicted).

No-one in the Conservative Party has yet claimed to have been stitched up, unless someone else knows any better. Considering the way in which they’ve been led into signing up to a programme for government which should have had them choking over their cornflakes, this is truly amazing. Verdict – the most successful and skilful stitch up of all, because they haven’t even spotted it yet.

So, if I had to award prizes for the best needlework, then Nick Bourne would win the first prize for having so successfully sold out so many of his party’s policies and beliefs and getting away with it. Ieuan Wyn Jones gets the second prize for having almost succeeded in getting the rainbow coalition through, and then getting accused of completely the wrong stitch-up. Oh, and I think we need a special lifetime achievement award for Mike German for so spectacularly sewing himself into a cold and lonely corner.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Courage to say no

According to a post by Vaughan Roderick a few days ago, Plaid's leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, was forced to agree to the Labour deal rather than follow his instincts and go with the Tories because he was effectively being blackmailed by the party's Left. Vaughan suggested that the rainbowistas would accept the party's decision to go with Labour, but the Red-Green supporters would not accept a decision to go with the rainbow.

I think Vaughan has got it wrong, at least in part. Certainly, if the party decided to follow the rainbow, there would have been resignations; probably including some public and high profile resignations. But I suspect that the party's central office is resigned (no pun intended) to the fact that there will be resignations over the Red-Green deal as well. Maybe not as public or high profile, but probably more numerous, and certainly every bit as damaging. Perhaps it doesn't look as much like blackmail, but appearances aren't everything.

Is there another way out? I think there may well be – if Plaid's membership has the courage to simply say 'no'. The result of a 'no' vote would be a minority Labour government, almost inevitably. I suppose they could go back to the Lib Dems, but why? They wouldn't need to, and the Lib Dems are now so utterly discredited as to deserve their inevitable marginalisation.

Conventional wisdom (pace Ieuan Wyn Jones and others) has it that to be 'stable', a government has to have an overall majority of votes in the Assembly; but I think that the negotiations over the last seven weeks have changed that, for the next four years at least.

As a result of the proposed deal with Plaid, Labour now know exactly what they have to deliver as a minority government to avoid defeat in the chamber. And thanks to the negotiating skills of the Plaid team, much of what is in that document has already been agreed with the other two parties, who would surely now find it impossible to publicly vote against what they have already agreed to as a programme for government.

So there is a possibility for a real consensus to develop over the core programme for the next four years, as well as a constitutional convention to develop the campaign for a full parliament. The people of Wales get an agreed programme - and a proper parliament.

What's in it for the parties?

The Labour fundamentalists would still have to agree to the programme of government that has been put forward, but avoid having to sit at Cabinet with the hated nashies.

Plaid remain as the main opposition party, able to oppose anything not in the programme. The party remains united, and can sell its tacit support for a Labour government on the basis that more people voted for Labour than for any other party, but Plaid have forced Labour to accept much of its programme, and particularly to campaign for a parliament.

The Tories are kept out of government and remain as, at best, second fiddle in opposition – but have been locked into a consensus on much of the government's programme.

The Lib Dems have marginalised themselves – nothing can change that now.

Looks like a good deal to me – will Plaid's members have the courage?

Gordon Brown

I've been tagged by Normal Mouth to give some responses to questions on Gordon Brown. Should have answered sooner, but I was having trouble thinking of things he should be proud of – until I started thinking outside politics!

Two things Gordon Brown should be proud of
  • The humanity and normality he showed in the face of the greatest tragedy any parent can suffer – the loss of his first child.
  • His refusal to obey convention in the penguin style dress code for formal events.
Two things he should apologise for.
  • Iraq
  • The damage he has done to pension funds of ordinary working people, whilst giving new pensions tax breaks to the well-off.

Two things that he should do immediately when he becomes PM.

  • I'm too late responding on this one; it's already happened.

Two things he should do while he is PM.

  • Scrap Trident, rather than replace it with a new system.
  • Take the Tories' internal market out of the health service.

As for tagging others, well, I'm afraid that as a child, I was always the one who broke the chain when I received a chain letter, and that's a habit which I haven't lost. But under quantum politics, of course, every single one (or should that be both?) of my readers has been simultaneously tagged and not-tagged (just like Schrödinger's cat); and you only know which when you read this post. So if you feel yourself to have been tagged, then you have been.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Quantum Politics

It was that great physicist Nils Bohr who famously said that "Anyone who isn't shocked by quantum theory has not understood it." And it was then Heisenberg who gave us the Uncertainty Principle, just in case we weren't already shocked enough. You know, the bit about never being able to know both the velocity and the location of anything.

Apparently, the big debate in quantum physics at present is straying into what used to be a question for philosophers only – i.e. whether there is any such thing as objective reality at all, or whether things only exist when they are observed. The interaction between event and observer is what creates reality, it is argued; it seems to me that it must therefore follow is that any such interaction is as valid as any other, and that reality, like beauty, is thus in the eye of the beholder.

So what's this got to do with my usual hobby-horse, Welsh politics? Well, given the way in which the same events have been so widely interpreted to mean completely different things, perhaps we need a quantum theory of politics.

Take the fact that Ieuan Wyn Jones, as widely trailed, ended up recommending to his group that Plaid should accept the deal with Labour and reject the alternative rainbow proposal. In advance of the decision, we had two very different takes on what it said about Plaid's leader.

According to Glyn Davies:

I just can't believe Ieuan Wyn Jones. He must be the only politician in the
Western world who doesn't want to be First Minister. Wouldn't be so bad if I
wouldn't give my right arm for the what is the best job in Wales. One month in
the job would be better than 10 years as Leader of the Opposition. The man has
no sense of history. When Ieuan comes to writing his autobiography, I suggest
the title 'I just wasn't big enough when it mattered'.
Vaughan Roderick, considering the same event, said (my translation):

So tomorrow I suspect that Ieuan will go against his instincts, and
sacrifice his personal ambition for the sake of his party. Ieuan has grown
during all this. Members of Plaid Cymru should be proud of their

But according to my quantum theory of politics, there are plenty of other interpretations open to us as well. I suspect that Jones was really hoping that something would go badly wrong with the Labour deal, enabling him to save the rainbow, but he was determined not to find himself in a minority in his own group. After all, he's been there once before, after the 2003 election, ad it's easy to see why he wouldn't want to go there again.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Two Big Questions (Part 2)

I referred in a previous post to the first of what I thought were the two big questions which Plaid members would be considering as they pondered which option to pursue. My first question was what the voters wanted; my second is about the electoral consequences of any decision. This one isn't just for Plaid of course; it is a poser for all the parties, although, as we shall see, I believe that it is Plaid which faces the greatest difficulty and the greatest risk in making a decision.

People vote for all sorts of reasons; some positive, some negative. Some vote positively for one party or another. Others vote against the party they like least. Some vote for the party which they think has the best chance of defeating the incumbent – whoever the incumbent is. And some just want to register a protest against their usual party, by voting for the one which is, in their view, the 'safest' alternative.

All parties, in all elections, amass a coalition of votes on this basis; but the relative proportion of the different categories varies from area to area, and from party to party.

Labour have the easiest decision of all to make. Most of their seats are in their heartlands, and most of their supporters are voting definitely for Labour. Some vote against the Tories, but none of the three options open to Rhodri Morgan are likely to alienate any large section of voters. Whether he ultimately ends up in a coalition with Plaid, a coalition with the Lib Dems, or soldiering on in a minority, he is unlikely to alienate any of his supporters. The things most likely to upset his supporters are either a deal with the Tories (which is not even on the table), or else deliberately standing down and letting the Tories in. (Note that these comments are about Labour supporters, not members and activists, where there are much stronger feelings about the options, as we have seen in recent days!).

Lib Dem voters come from all over the place – there is a complete mish-mash of reasons for supporting that party. But they also have an easy choice. They have so little to lose in terms of seats that they can afford to gamble any way they like. The biggest danger for them is that being seen to be irrelevant might lose them some support; but they really don't have that much to lose.

The Tories don't really have a problem either. It remains a mystery why their activists and members have not reacted more strongly to their support for a nationalist programme, but most of their Assembly vote is a pro-Tory vote, and is unlikely to go anywhere else. They have been marginalised in Welsh politics for the whole of their history, and are likely to remain so unless someone else gives them a bunk-up. Faced with a choice between the rainbow and continued peripheralisation, it is easy to see why the rainbow looks attractive to Bourne.

Plaid, on the other hand, face the toughest choice of all. They have most to lose, as the main opposition party being closely pursued by the Tories; and their vote contains the second most mixed coalition of all. Whatever their left wing rhetoric, in those parts of Wales where they are seen as the only, or the strongest, alternative to Labour, they unquestionably pick up 'borrowed' votes from other parties, and particularly the Tories. But for Labour supporters, disillusioned with Labour, but finding the Tories 'unpalatable' (© Rhodri Morgan), Plaid are the 'soft' alternative. And these two groups form a substantial proportion of Plaid's vote.

Now if Plaid are seen to support the Tories, they risk losing the votes of Labour voters who want to protest against their own party; and if they support Labour, they risk losing the support of all those Tories who have loaned them their votes. Either way, they risk being the biggest losers, and they seem to have no strategy in place to deal with this. Ieuan Wyn Jones talks about gaining 'credibility' by being in government either way; but if the effect is to lose a substantial proportion of their vote, that 'credibility' will not do a lot of good.

Seems to me that they're between a rock and a hard place – and they've got there entirely by their own devices. It will be interesting to see whether their members start to look for a third alternative.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Remember Jaruzelski?

For those of you too young to remember him, General Jaruzelski was leader of Poland in the old Soviet days. Poland was, of course, nominally an independent country, and the Polish Communist Party was free to make its own decisions. But if ever they dared to do so, Jaruzelski would be summoned to Moscow, and would return absolutely convinced of the need to do whatever it was that had been quietly suggested to him in Moscow.

I'm not quite sure why, but the name suddenly sprang back into my mind as I read the reports of Rhodri Morgan's little trip to London this week.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Of leopards and spots

I find myself musing along similar lines to Welsh Ramblings today, although Ramblings has also found some interesting quotes from Ieuan Wyn Jones on how utterly untrustworthy the Tories are.

Those who would bring the Tories into the next government of Wales are confident that this is not the Tory party of Redwood and Thatcher, and that we have nothing to fear from them. But are they right? Should we trust the Tories to act and speak in line with what the All-Wales Accord says, nothing less and nothing more - or is this just a smokescreen to get into power at any cost? Listen carefully to their words, and you too can become as convinced as me.

On the Assembly's powers, the Tories' Welsh spokesperson, Cheryl Gillan says: "It will be cheating the voters and parliament if it [Welsh legislation] doesn't at least go through the full stages...What it is showing is that the Labour government has sought to effectively bypass parliament." Hmm, off to a good start there.

How about a new language act, extending rights of Welsh speakers into the private sector. Well, their language spokesman in the Assembly, Paul Davies, says: "Businesses should be encouraged, though not compelled, to make maximum use of the Welsh language, not erect barriers to it. 
Education, support and encouragement - rather than compulsion - are effective ways forward in promoting greater use of Welsh." This is going really well, isn't it.

Their commitment to keeping services in the public sector is refreshingly new. Nothing about that in the All-Wales Accord that I can find, so how about their manifesto for May's elections? That tells us: "encourage NHS Trusts to seek Foundation Hospital status and allow a measure of financial autonomy to such Trusts". Hospitals opting out of the control of the NHS – sounds strangely familiar to me, but I'm probably just misinterpreting it.

Or how about: "encourage the commissioning of more public services from the private sector." Sounds a bit like a euphemism for privatisation to me, but that surely can't be right.

Protecting public service jobs? Manifesto once again: "All the spending commitments in this manifesto would be financed from an investment fund generated by reallocating 1% of existing Welsh Assembly Government budgets." So, an arbitrary 1% cut in the budget for all Assembly departments. I'm sure that they meant to do that without a single cut in jobs or services; the staff would just have to work harder.

I know, the environment. Vote Blue, go green, that's what they said, so let's see what they have to say on that. The All-Wales Accord is certainly promising – 3% cut per annum in carbon-equivalent emissions. So, air travel – one of the major causes of emissions. Now get that under control, and we see a real commitment to the environment. Manifesto: "work with Cardiff International Airport to increase the number of routes to Europe’s principal commercial centres, such as Brussels, Frankfurt, Milan and Barcelona." They are obviously planning airships rather than aeroplanes.

[UPDATE - with thanks to Anonymous 3 - It seems that one of the Tory AM's who so bravely supported the 3% per annum target for cuts in emissions had, only the previous week, supported a scheme in her constituency for a new gas-fired power station which would increase Wales' total emissions by 20%. Seven years' targets blown in one fell swoop. Interestingly, during the election campaign, I understand that this scheme was opposed both by Friends of the Earth - and by Plaid. Friends about to fall out?]

So, if your image of the Tory party is of a party which opposes further devolution, opposes extending language rights, supports privatisation, is at best luke-warm towards the public sector, will support business over the environment, and will cut public spending and jobs, you're obviously just as old-fashioned and muddle-headed as me. Because they really have changed – Plaid's leaders have told us so, and the hard evidence is set out above for all to see.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

It's in the genes

Genetically modified crops, we are told, have a huge potential for aiding humanity, by enabling us to tailor plants to grow in areas where they otherwise might not, and to produce more dependable harvests. It's an obviously attractive idea, and I've always been somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that those of us who live in a world of no shortages should too readily turn our backs on technologies which might do real good for some of the poorest people in the world.

Nevertheless, I am still doubtful about the long term impact of mixing genes from widely separated species. I remain unconvinced that anyone really knows enough to be able to predict the effect on the environment as a whole of doing that. Not yet, anyway.

On the other hand, mankind has been manipulating genes for centuries, even before genes were discsovered, by carefully cross-breeding and selecting in order to obtain the best results, whether that be for cows, pigs or wheat. At Aberystwyth, Wales has a world-leading institute doing just that, with plants, and doing it very successfully too.

At present, one of the big issues for them is developing plants which can withstand climate change, and continue to grow healthily in different conditions.

According to a story today, they've managed to isolate a 'stay-green' gene, which will prevent grass from turning yellow. Now that could be a useful gene if transplanted into the right places. Wonder if they've got them in other colours as well?

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Two big questions (Part 1)

As events in Welsh politics move slowly, almost painfully so, towards a denouement of some sort, Plaid AM's and Plaid's NEC will soon find that they have no further opportunity to avoid making their tough decision.

There are lots of things that they will be considering, of course; but I think there are two really big ones. The first is this – what do the voters want?

From the outset, people have been interpreting the election results to suit their own view of events, but what can we really say, in terms of hard facts? Although everyone knew that coalition was a probable outcome, there was no way of expressing that on the ballot paper, so all we have to go on is the hard numbers of the election results and a few pre-election opinion polls.

The first point to make is that more people voted for the Labour Party than voted for any other party. I wasn't in that number, as it happens, and I don't understand why so many people did vote for them; but I cannot ignore the fact that they did. In voting the way they did, more people said that they trusted Labour to lead a government than trusted any other single party to lead a government. That is surely irrefutable.

Proponents of the Rainbow have argued that more people voted against Labour than voted for them, showing that Labour were unpopular, and therefore justifying the Rainbow. Sure there were more votes against Labour than for them – that's an unarguable fact. But taken individually, more people voted against Plaid, the Tories or the Lib Dems than voted against Labour. All that really tells us is that Labour may indeed have been unpopular; but they were still less unpopular than anyone else.

And to argue that the 70% who voted against Labour therefore all voted for the Rainbow is stretching credibility beyond breaking point. Was every Tory supporter really saying that he or she would prefer a Plaid government over a Labour one? Or was every Plaid voter expressing a preference for the Tories over Labour?

I don't see how anyone can draw such a conclusion from the election results. I suppose it's possible; it just doesn't seem terribly likely to me. Assuming that everyone who didn't vote Labour would therefore express a second choice for another non-Labour party is a complete non-sequitur; many Plaid, Lib Dem and even some Tory voters would have, if they had had the chance, made Labour their second choice. Of that I am certain.

No, I'm afraid that whether we armchair anoraks and bloggers like it or not, Labour emerged with more votes and more seats than any other party – a clear lead of 11 seats over their nearest opponents. And since every elector could vote only for his or her first choice party, the only thing we can say for certain on any coalition is that no-one actually voted for it.

For a party which won so many more votes and seats than any of its opponents to be unseated by an alliance for which no-one actually voted, and for which there is no proven public support at the ballot box, looks to me more like a coup d'état than democracy.

PS - I see that Ordovicius argues that to avoid taking so long over this in future, all the parties should simply delegate all power to their leaders to form whatever arrangements they like once elected. I think this is completely the wrong thing to do. If coalitions are to be the norm, we actually need politicians to have less say in the conclusion and give the power back to us as electors. A more open system of proportional representation would be a good start; so that we can see for real what people's second choice party actually is.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Two Theories of History

An anonymous comment on my previous post asks:

Have you any shred of evidence for concluding thus:
1. Adam Price raised Green/Red Alliance in order to prove to left that no deal was possible.
2. Labour's enthusiasm unexpected.
3. Assume Adam had support of IWJ
4. IWJ reported anger part of a choreographed peformance
5. Doubt Labour offered as much as previously suggested in leaked letter by Welsh Ramblings

Bethan also rushes to the defence of Adam Price. They raise fair points, and they deserve a response. If by evidence you mean a paper trail or a smoking gun, then no, I have none; just opinion based on trying to make sense of what people do and say. It is said that there are two theories of history – conspiracy and cockup. I may well be wrong in seeing conspiracy, and would be much happier to be proved wrong than right. Unbridled cynicism can become rather depressing over time.

The fifth question is the easiest one to answer. It was tongue in cheek, since the 'leaked letter' was apparently offering Ieuan Wyn Jones candlelit dinners with Betsan Powys.... But back to the serious points.

Welsh Ramblings suggests that a small right-wing clique have been trying to push Plaid Cymru into a coalition with the Tories – his or her analysis is not dissimilar to mine in that respect. (I'd take issue with the idea that the clique is right wing however – I suspect it's an ideology-free clique rather than one which has any coherent right wing position).

But, let us suppose for a moment that I am wrong to doubt the motives of Adam Price in raising the Red-Green idea again so late in the day, and assume that events are more or less as reported. The sequence looks roughly like this:
  • Immediately after the Assembly election, Plaid's Assembly Group agrees that the way forward for the party is to lead the opposition to Labour, who should, as the largest party, form the government.

  • Within days, Plaid's leader, with strong support from Adam Price, begins talking to all Plaid's Assembly members to overturn that decision and begin coalition talks.

  • Although initially talking to all parties, the Assembly group decides to suspend talks with Labour and concentrate all its efforts on an agreement with the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. Throughout this process, Price is working as Ieuan Wyn Jones' right-hand man (no political comment intended) in driving forward the negotiations.

  • That agreement is concluded, and gets signed off by the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. There is however, considerable unrest on the left within Plaid at the process and its conclusion – and some scepticism about the role of Adam Price, once seen as a standard bearer for the left, but now apparently one of the principal proponents of coalition with the Tories.

  • Almost on the eve of the meeting where Plaid Cymru is due to discuss and either accept or reject the agreement, Price raises once again the question of a Red-Green alliance. Having been somewhat lukewarm to date, this time Labour respond extremely positively.

  • Jones is reported to be furious at this development - but the first thing he does is summon Adam Price down from London to lead the negotiations with Labour.

It just doesn't add up to me. I'm perfectly happy to accept that my own interpretation may be wrong (although I know I'm not alone in seeing things that way); but that leaves unanswered questions.

It seems clear that the clique referred to by Welsh Ramblings still intends to push Plaid into a coalition with the Tories, but if we believe that Price genuinely wants to go the Red-Green route instead, then we are asked to believe both that Price is working hand in glove with Jones on the negotiations, and also that he is seeking a completely different outcome. When it comes to believing impossible things, I tend to be with Alice, rather than with the Queen of Hearts.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Rainbow on Life Support

A lot of interesting reaction to yesterday's decision – or some might say, non-decision – by Plaid's Executive Committee. I guess for those of us who weren't invited it's hard to second guess what's going on, and what happens next. Anyone who was there want to enlighten us publicly?

I tend to agree with the comments on Welsh Ramblings. The whole Red/Green alliance was raised by Adam Price – a known and very public supporter of the rainbow – in order to try and demonstrate to Plaid's left that no such deal was possible, and justify the rainbow. But they have really been surprised and thrown off course by Labour's enthusiasm, leaving them with no choice but to negotiate seriously with Labour.

Adam Price was not happy with my interpretation at the time, but I remained sceptical (or should that be spectical?). I had assumed that he had raised the issue with the support and knowledge – tacit at least – of Plaid's leader Ieuan Wyn Jones, and that Jones' reported anger at the time was all part of a carefully choreographed performance for the benefit of the party's members.

Time will tell; but in the meantime, whether by accident or design, Plaid now find themselves locked in detailed negotiations with a Labour Party who seem eager to do a deal. I doubt that they've offered as much as previously suggested in the letter leaked exclusively by Welsh Ramblings, mind you. (I don't really believe that Betsan Powys is theirs to give).

The wording of yesterday's Plaid statement is quite significant, I think. According to the BBC, Plaid said that the NEC hadn't even discussed the rainbow coalition. Further, I heard on a radio bulletin that they have no plans at this stage to discuss the document. Yes, that's what they said - this is a document which has been discussed and agreed by the other two parties, but the party which led the negotiations to produce it hasn't even discussed it or taken a view on it, and has no plans to.

I think that tells us a lot about the mood in the NEC. The alliance with Labour is the only game being pursued at this stage, and only if that fails will the party even start to consider joining in government with the Tories. The left has always been stronger on the NEC than in the overall membership of the party, but even so, the decision was apparently unanimous. (I disagree with Ordovicius (and his source, Miserable Old Fart) on this, by the way. He claims that Gareth Jones voted against – I heard that Mr Jones actually left before any vote was taken).

Seems to me that this leaves the rainbow not exactly dead, but it has been moved into intensive care. Welsh Ramblings believes that rainbow supporters will yet attempt to revive it by finding a way of scuppering the Labour deal. From what Ordovicius says about the Politics Show, it sounds as if Dai Lloyd has been appointed as Ieuan Wyn Jones' outrider on this already. I suspect Welsh Ramblings is correct; they will certainly try. But I'm far from certain that they will succeed.

For how long will Bourne and German keep biting their tongues, I wonder.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Juggling Act

I think that Vaughan Roderick (translated by Ordovicius) may be asking the impossible of Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones today.

With the possibility of a Lab-Lib Dem coalition apparently back on the table, Jones needs to ensure that Mike German does not pick up the phone to Rhodri - or else all is lost for him, as Labour get their preferred alternative, and the Lib Dems clutch at that straw. But what does it take to prevent German making that call?

On the one hand, Jones has to ensure that Rhodri Morgan believes that he is negotiating (in all honesty and sincerity) a deal which could see Plaid entering government as Labour's junior partners. On the other hand, he has to convince German (and also presumably the rainbow's chief architect, Nick Bourne, who is lurking somewhere in the background) that he isn't really serious about Labour, and will return to the Rainbow in due course.

As if that wasn't enough, he has to convince his own party that he really does have an open mind, and is approaching both sets of talks with a willingness to see what comes out of them, and then make the best judgement for Wales and for Plaid.

They say that 'narrative' is all in politics these days; but poor Mr Jones has to run with three mutually conflicting narratives simultaneously – the game could be up the minute any one of the three different audiences cease to believe him. Quite an act if he pulls it off!

Thursday, 14 June 2007

7th Cavalry to the rescue - again?

Immediately after the Lib Dem wobble, one of Plaid's gang of four was apparently heard to say "Saved by the Lib Dems. Who'd have thought it?". For those in Plaid who opposed the Rainbow, the wobble was a godsend, even if only by buying more time.

But there is also opposition to the idea of a coalition with Labour in some quarters - not least in the blogosphere (Ordovicius, Miserable Old Fart). Could there be an answer which lets both sides of the debate in Plaid off the hook? And could the Lib Dems once again ride to the rescue, like the 7th Cavalry always used to do in the cowboy films?

Vaughan Roderick suggests they just might. Vaughan says that the other three parties all have something to gain from the Labour-Plaid deal; Labour stay in government, Plaid get into government, and Nick Bourne becomes Leader of the Opposition. The Lib Dems, he says, become nothing more than a peripheral party of opposition, spending the next four years in the political wilderness.

But there is another scenario in which Labour avoid doing a deal with Plaid, Plaid are kept out of government, Bourne remains the junior opposition leader, and the Lib Dems move to centre stage once again.

According to Vaughan, all that Mike German has to do is pick up the phone and talk to Rhodri......

Bourne hangs on in there

So far, at least, Nick Bourne has not turned on his new best friend Ieuan Wyn Jones for re-opening talks with Labour. He's been ever so diplomatic. In fact, I hear that he's said that the terrible three (Jones, Bourne and German) still talk on a daily basis and share detailed information about the progress of Plaid's talks with Labour. (Whether Plaid's members will be so pleased to know that Bourne and German probably know more about what's going on than they do is not something on which I shall speculate at this point).

On the basis of those daily chats, Bourne believes that the Rainbow has far from evaporated, and is something to which Plaid will return. Presumably, these little tête-á-têtes also give Bourne the opportunity to feed in his views on what other stumbling blocks Plaid could find to a deal with Labour, thus, as he would see it, enabling Jones to return to his preferred option with additional justification.

That would fit with the interpretation which I have heard often; namely that the main architect of the Rainbow is none other than Nick Bourne; that he, more than anyone else drove it to the point where it looked to be about to happen. Some unkind souls even suggested that he was outclassing and out-manoeuvring Ieuan Wyn Jones, who was like putty in his hands.

But there is an intriguing possibility on the horizon – that Jones may end up looking like the master poker player, with Bourne as his patsy. Having negotiated the All-Wales Accord with Bourne and German – and having got both of those parties to sign up to a full law-making parliament for Wales in the process – he's then gone back to Labour and got them signed up as well. So, Tories left on the political sidelines, Bourne well and truly stitched up, Plaid in government, and all four parties supporting a 'yes' vote in a referendum. Quite a feat by any standards.

Future historians will probably, of course, reveal it to have been an accidental triumph, but, hey, the results of many battles and even wars have hinged on less.

At what stage does Bourne stop hanging on in there and start spitting blood?

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

The Bourne Mystery

No, not the latest in the series of novels by Robert Ludlum, just a question about the amazing run of luck which has befallen Nick Bourne, in being the only party leader not to have had any obvious or public disagreement within his party over the rainbow coalition of which he is probably the main architect. There were serious disagreements within the Lib Dems; it is clear that there is serious discontent within Plaid - how have the Tories escaped this?

Part of the reason, of course, is that the Tories have never really worried about the concept of party democracy. The Leader decides, the members do as they are told. It's worked pretty well for Bourne – it's almost worked for Cameron as well, although rumblings seem to be starting over the party's direction at a UK level.

But there may also be an element of ignorance amongst the rank and file as well. Do the members and the activists really understand what their leader has signed them up for? A full law-making parliament, extending the Welsh language act, proportional representation in local government. These are the sort of policies which one would expect to have some of the backwoodsmen who still inhabit much of the Tory party choking over their cornflakes. But not a squeak.

So, to misquote Conan Doyle, 'why has this dog not barked in the night?'

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Is the dream over?

It's getting harder and harder to keep up with events. When I last posted, earlier today, (Rhodri's Last Hope), I was starting to think that Rhodri had given up on even trying to stay in government.

I said then that, if he wanted to hang on, he needed to make an offer that was good enough to break Ieuan Wyn Jones' stranglehold on decision-making within Plaid on this issue – and that the key to doing that was to firm up on the commitment to a referendum on a parliament.

Within hours, he'd done exactly that; and much, much more. Seats in the cabinet, a new language act, a review of Barnett. Mr. Jones, who has rejected all Labour advances to date, is now likely to struggle to find a way of saying 'no' which his party will accept, and has had to concede that there will be further talks with Labour.

For the time being, at least, Rhodri has pulled off what he needed to achieve. He's given those within Plaid who've been fighting a rearguard action against the coalitionistas the opportunity which they needed to re-assert democratic control over their party. It's now over to them to use that opportunity effectively.

But what about the potential fall-out?

Jones himself has invested so much time and credibility in promoting his attempt to become First Minister that his future as Leader would start to look shaky if his rainbow were to evaporate. So for him, more than anyone else, the stakes are high. Expect a lot of effort to go into a last-ditch attempt to keep the rainbow shining.

If Jones fails to save the deal, the other parties are already sharpening the knives of friendship (see Peter Black) ready to stab their former chum in the back.

As for Adam Price, Ceredig remains completely convinced that he was setting what he believed to be deliberately impossible conditions in order to be able to justify his favoured deal with the Tories; he might now find himself so hoist with his own petard that he has no option but to support what he actually said he supported!

Rhodri's Last Hope

The rejection by Ieuan Wyn Jones of Rhodri Morgan's latest proposals was entirely predictable. Jones has decided – he may possibly even have decided a year or more ago – that he wants to be First Minister, and he is prepared to join forces with the Tories to achieve that. With only half a chance, he will reject any and every offer from Labour.

But to what extent does his rejection reflect the views of his party? Given that his party had little or no input to the rejection, it's hard to say. His group in the Assembly seem to be supine, not even getting the chance to discuss his responses to Labour, whilst the party's National Executive seems to be sitting powerlessly on the sidelines. Nick Bourne and Mike German probably had more influence on the 'Plaid' response than did anyone in Plaid itself – a view seemingly confirmed by Vaughan Roderick's latest blog.

If Rhodri Morgan actually wants to save his skin – and some are starting to seriously doubt whether he does – he needs to make the sort of offer which will encourage members of Plaid Cymru to start participating in events, rather than being mere bystanders.

What would such an offer look like? Well, for many in Plaid the attraction of having a Plaid First Minister is a seriously big prize – but the attraction of having a full Parliament by 2011 is an even bigger one. The problem with what Rhodri has said so far is that his proposals seem so unenthusiastic and half-hearted; and Plaid members have a deep, and well-founded, distrust of Labour over all matters constitutional.

If Rhodri wants Plaid to break Ieaun Wyn's stranglehold over the party's responses, he needs to be promising a referendum before 2011, and committing his government and party to campaign for a 'yes' vote. And he needs to make the statement before Plaid's National Executive meet on Saturday if he wants to strengthen the hand of Plaid members who oppose the coalition. Will he do that? More importantly, does he have the authority within his party to be able to do that?

The Flowerpot Men

When I was very small, I used to Watch with Mother, and the Flowerpot Men were my favourite. Two little men all made out of flowerpots, speaking an incomprehensible nonsense, and every week, one of them would do something slightly naughty, and we had to guess which one.

I wouldn't say that either Ieuan Wyn Jones or Nick Bourne really look the part of flowerpot men, although some people can probably quite easily imagine both of them saying 'bob-op-ti-pop' or 'slob-a-dob' quite happily. But it was the 'naughty' part that brought the image to mind.

For months before the election on May 3rd, Mr Bourne, aka Bill, repeatedly briefed the media that talks between the three parties were ongoing with regard to what might happen after the election. My sources in the Conservative Party tell me that Bill said as much internally as well.

However, my equally reliable sources inside Plaid have recently told me that Ieuan Wyn Jones, aka Ben, regularly re-assured the members of his party that there were no such discussions, formal, informal, direct or through intermediaries.

Now Ceredig is a fairly simple soul, but it seems to me that, logically, both of these statements cannot be correct. So, one of the flowerpot men must have been, shall we say, economical with the actualité. Given that it seems increasingly likely that one of them will be our First Minister, and the other his Deputy, it would be nice to know which one we should most be willing to trust. Boris Johnson would offer a coconut for the answer, but alas, I have none to give. But I'd still be interested if anyone could tell me, with hard evidence, the answer to the question with which all followers of Watch with Mother will be familiar – was it Bill, or was it Ben?

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Any colour will do (except red, of course)

Adam Price's reaction to the suggestion by Ordovicius that the decision (to form a rainbow coalition) has already been made is entirely predictable. He claims that his demands of Labour are entirely reasonable and deliverable (but omits to say, of course, that they are very much 'his' demands, and have neither been discussed nor agreed by his party).

But, in a sense, whether they are deliverable and reasonable or not is not the issue. We can be certain that the Plaid leader will find some reason to reject any response which Labour might make - even if only on the flimsiest grounds put forward by Price that 'the ball is now in Labour's court'. The future of government in Wales decided by an argument about who telephones who?

Tomos Livingstone, writing in yesterday's Western Mail, seems to believe that Price is actually serious about wanting a deal with Labour. Similar comments (about preferring a deal with Labour) have been made by Price's constituency colleague, Rhodri Glyn Thomas. I wonder. I have a feeling that Ieuan Wyn Jones, Price, and Thomas all decided over a year ago that the way forward was a coalition with the Tories, and everything since then has been about manoeuvering events in that direction.

So why talk up a deal with Labour if you're not serious? The answer is to do with internal Plaid politics rather than reality. Price, in particular, needs to try and salvage some credibility on the Left of the party, and needs to try and create a position where he can say that he doesn't really want a coalition with the Tories, but Labour are forcing his hand. It cannot be helping Price's 'socialist credentials' for Nick Bourne to have described the proposed coalition as "An alternative to Socialism in Wales", or for Mike German to have talked about putting together "A non-socialist alternative to Labour".

All three of them are conscious that the vote within the party could go either way - contrary to what many commentators are saying. The question they need to ask themselves is whether transparent attempts to dismiss everything Labour say will actually help them or not.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Only Two Games?

I believe that it was Norman St. John Stevas who first coined the nickname 'TINA' for Margaret Thatcher. For her, there was never any alternative. What she said was right, by definition.

Of course, what she meant was not that there were really no alternatives - there always are - but that she simply wasn't prepared to accept them. And thus is the way of many politicians, it would seem.

Even the often erudite Adam Price, Plaid MP for Carmarthen East, is not immune to this disease. Writing on the latest situation in the Assembly on his blog, he says that:

"There are only two games in town - a rainbow or red/green. There is no Third Option."

Anyone believe that? No, not even Adam himself, for in the very next sentence, he gives us another option, namely:

"Remaining in Opposition in perpetuity may be a comforting thought for some in the party, but will make us look weak and ineffectual and lacking the courage of our convictions."

Perhaps if he wrote a few more sentences, he might discover even more options - the only thing of which we can be certain is that any option which diverts him from his chosen course along the rainbow will be dismissed.

But his verbal sleight of hand is even cleverer that that, of course. At a stroke, he dismisses anyone who disagrees with him as wanting to remain 'in opposition in perpetuity'. If you can't play the ball, play the man.

But the question is this - if minority government is OK, nay desirable even, under Alex Salmond in Scotland, why is it so necessarily unstable in Wales? If it works for the largest party today, couldn't it also work for a different largest party in the future? Or is Mr Price implicitly accepting that Plaid will never be the largest party in Wales?