Monday, 5 November 2007

Frying Pans and Fires

A whole week after Hain’s little outburst, and the dust is settling nicely, after a fashion.

In his latest post on the subject, Normal Mouth argued that Labour need do nothing; and that by doing nothing, they would be calling Plaid’s bluff, since Plaid would not leave the coalition government—not yet, anyway. He’s right, of course, in saying that Plaid would find that they had nowhere to go - but that doesn't mean that it would have been a wise move by Labour.

Plaid are not yet ready to abandon the coalition, and will not do so unless and until they become convinced that Labour will not deliver. Last week’s incident is, however, the sort of thing which could hasten that day if allowed to pass without response. In the event, it looks as though someone in Labour has recognised the need for some soothing words, and Hain has issued a 'clarification'.

I suspect that it's not so much the detail of the clarification that will be important to Plaid as the fact that there is one, since that gives a degree of recognition to their concerns. And most important of all will be the implicit recognition that this is not the way to hold a discussion over the timing of the referendum.

Both parties need to become more aware of the internal pressures of the other, and refrain from this style of megaphone discussion. I tend to accept Normal Mouth's contention that Hain’s comments were never really aimed at anyone except his Labour colleagues. It was fundamentally a statement for internal consumption; but making it so publicly inevitably caused some to interpret it differently. The sooner the Convention is in place and this type of internal discussion within the Labour Party can be held in a more civilised (and less public) fashion the better.

Meanwhile, Nick Bourne seems to be trying to ensure that the route to the rainbow remains open - just in case. He misses the point completely. If Plaid's alliance with Labour were to come to a premature end, it would be because of Labour's failure to deliver on their own party’s policy of a legislative parliament. Why on earth would Plaid then jump straight into bed with a party which doesn’t support the idea of having such a parliament, and many of whose members would like to abolish the Assembly itself?

Of course, some would argue that they were close to doing precisely that just a few months ago, and that is true. But, and it’s a big but, the Bourne-Jones rainbow strategy depended entirely on bouncing both parties into a deal before the members of either really had an opportunity to consider the ramifications. So the Tories in the Assembly made their commitment to supporting a legislative parliament, and in their haste to form a government some of Plaid's leading figures accepted that on face value without even asking where the rest of the Tory Party stood.

And why not? After all, the other element of the strategy was that the Tories knew full well that, without Labour, there was no majority in the Assembly for a referendum, so their pledge would never have to be honoured or even tested. So Bourne bounced his AM's into making a meaningless pledge in return for a real share in government – hardly a major concession.

Things are very different now. The words of the Tories have been shown for what they were at the time – a complete sham. Crabbe and Davies have exposed the true views of the party on devolution; and for all that a brave soul such as Glyn Davies says and does, it is increasingly apparent that Crabbe and Davies are more in tune with the party’s membership. Bourne has been left isolated, with his party leader, the shadow secretary of state for Wales, and the rest of the party's AM's conspicuously declining to offer him any support at all. Bourne himself has even been forced to admit in his blog that his views are merely “some personal thoughts”.

Plaid return to the rainbow? I think not.

8 comments:

alanindyfed said...

My view is that Plaid would not turn back to the 'rainbow'. An only alternative would be to be in opposition. Despite the Welsh MPs' comments and those of the Labour leadership in London the alliance should hold throughout the term and until the advent of the referendum. The referendum will give a clearer reading of the mood of the electorate and Plaid's choice of working in coalition will be justified.

Glyn Davies said...

The day will come for hats and words to be eaten

Ceredig said...

Glyn,

We shall see.

It seems to me that your party really had two choices for a route forward once the Assembly was established. The first was to embrace it wholeheartedly, and the second was to continue opposing it. Given that - and this is one thing that I think we would agree on - the original settlement for devolution in Wales was inherently unstable, embracing it inevitably means supporting the move to a legislative parliament more or less on the Scottish model.

Now, for a while at least, it really did appear that you were going to do the first. With yourself and Nick Bourne in particular in support of that, it seemed that the party was moving in that direction. As far as I can see, the London leadership were prepared to tolerate that, for as long as two conditions held. The first was that the party was seen to be making real progress in Wales, and the second was that there was no prospect of the party winning a Westminster election. It was remarkable that your grass roots membership were not in open rebellion; but they too seemed to be willing to tolerate whatever helped the party to rebuild from a pretty catastrophic low point.

However, since the failure of the rainbow, and given that winning a Westminster election no longer looks to be the stuff of cloud-cuckoo fantasy land, the appearance from outside your party is that the other side have very much gained the upper hand. Cameron and Gillan have been given plenty of opportunity to support Bourne and distance themselves from the likes of David Davies, and have conspicuously failed to do so. Your party's group in the Assembly have very obviously failed to give any public support to Bourne on this issue. And the grass-roots membership remains hostile in much of Wales.

In that context, the rainbow which looked so achievable just a few months ago now looks like a complete non-starter. The only way that you are ever going to create a situation where there is any danger of my hat getting eaten (with or without a decent glass of Sancerre) is if the party formally and clearly adopts a policy on the issue; something which has not happened to date. As long as your party continues to approach one of the biggest debates facing Wales over the next three years on the basis that you don’t have a policy and everyone can say what they like, you are unlikely to get back to where you so nearly were just a few short months ago.

alanindyfed said...

Hats and words are an indigestible combination.

der said...

I supported the setting up of the Rainbow. With hindsight, I think Plaid made the correct decision. Yes, not even the Tory assemly member are coming out in support of Bourne. The assembly is still viewed by many of them as a stepping-stone - Cairns for example.

Ceredig said...

der,

I think that a lot of former rainbow supporters are starting to realise what a mistake it would have been. It was in serious danger of happening without proper evaluation and discussion.

Glyn Davies said...

These comments are really repressing. I do concede that there is unlikely to be another Plaid/Tory coalition opportunity until 2011 - and I do not expect you to have to eat your words until then. I just think that you are responding to yesterday's headlines and not taking accountof the underlying trends. I too have been dissappointed that more Conservatives have come out fighting behind Nick Bourne on this in public. Perhaps I am unduly optimistic, but optimistic I am. Just wait until I win the Montgomeryshire seat - there will be determined devolutionary Conservative MP at Westminster, which could change the dynamic no end.

Ceredig said...

Glyn,

We agree, at least, that it's off the agenda until at least 2011. Whether it comes back onto the agenda at that point depends critically on two factors - the attitude of your party in the interim, and the outcome of the referendum.

If your party spends the next four years either campaigning against a legislative parliament (which is what I expect to happen, based on the conspicuous silence of so many of your colleagues to date), or simply remaining officially agnostic whilst some of your more outspoken colleagues continue to argue against (which is the current situation), then the chances of Plaid being willing to work with you from 2011 on - particularly if the referendum were to be lost as a consequence - must be pretty close to zero.

To stand any chance of putting the idea back on the agenda, your party needs to show that it is committing itself to a parliament for Wales. Regardless of your own personal view on this, which I respect, there is no sign at all of a willingness to do so. All the signs, publicly at least, are that your party is effectively retracting the support which was given at the time of the All-Wales Accord.

I accept that you would be a divergent voice if you were to replace Lemsip - but one swallow doth not a spring make. For all your undoubted sincerity and determination, I don't see Cameron and the High Command changing their position simply as a result of your election, when they have felt so unable to support your current leader in Cardiff.