Friday, 1 February 2008

"Good game, good game"

Betsan Powys draws attention to the curious incident of an Assembly Government which votes against urging the UK government to pay the police pay increase in full, and then does precisely what it voted against doing. (As an aside – shouldn’t deliberately doing the opposite of what the Assembly told them to do be a matter for a vote of censure, at the least?) Of course, this is far from being the first time that the coalition parties – particularly Plaid – have been dragooned into voting against what they’ve said in the past.

Clearly, when the Tories tabled a motion asking the Assembly to urge the UK Government to pay police increases in full, they were playing a game of some sort – and in voting it down, the Labour/Plaid coalition was also playing a game. Leaving aside the not insignificant question of whether playing silly games is really what we elected them for, what on earth are they up to?

Nick Bourne expresses his disappointment that his motion did not receive support. Yeah, right. According to the opposition parties, the series of motions in similar vein which they have presented recently is aimed at causing a split between the coalition partners. Nonsense – that’s the last thing they want. A difference of opinion between Labour and Plaid on an issue outside One Wales would cause no problems at all for the coalition partners – it would not be an issue of confidence and on any vote of confidence, the coalition would quite rightly stand solid.

No, the opposition parties actually want Plaid to vote with Labour on all these issues. They are busy manufacturing a stock of bullets which will be fired repeatedly and effectively at any Plaid candidates in the next Assembly election who are foolish enough to try and put their own party’s policy to the electorate. The Tory/ Lib Dem riposte to Plaid will be obvious and frequent – “But your party in the Assembly voted against that”. For the opposition, it is indeed, a ‘good game’.

The problem for Labour is that, even if they agree with the motions, they can’t vote for them because they don't want to appear to be disagreeing with their masters in Westminster all the time. Politically, it doesn't matter a lot to them either. The more politics in Wales becomes polarised on ‘British’ lines – i.e. a Labour/Tory battle - the more they like it. And if the Tories should overtake Plaid to become the main opposition party in 2011 – well, Labour have most to gain from that. With Plaid unwilling to serve under a Tory First Minister, and the Tories therefore unable to gain a majority to back them in the Assembly, we have a permanent Labour government, either with, or without, a junior coalition party. Not a bad game for Labour either.

What’s hardest to understand is why Plaid seem so willing to play along. If this game has a loser, it’s Plaid. On motion after motion, their AMs seem to be tamely voting against what they’ve said before, and even against their own party’s policy. They’re helping their main rivals, the Tories, to make the bullets which will be used against them, and they’re doing so with smiles on their faces. Is this really a thought-through strategy, or have all the party’s AMs been transformed into lobby fodder which supinely does whatever it is told?

Update: Hen Ferchetan draws some not dissimilar conclusions.


Normal Mouth said...

A good post. Plaid do seem almost unreasonably keen to preserve the unity of the coalition, even to the extent of turning their old positions on their heads and even when they are not obliged.

Where I'd take issue is the presumption that Plaid will never join a Tory-led coalition. Certainly, they refused this time but (as the Guardian points out this morning)) perceptions towards the Tories are changing.

If 2007 taught us one thing it is that hitherto unlikely alliances are possible under the right circumstances.

Ceredig said...


OK, 'never' is a very big word, I'd have to agree on that. But it would be difficult for Plaid to reverse its position in the short term, and the more powers that the Assembly gets, whether by means of a referendum, or by creeping change through LCO's, the harder it will be for Plaid and the Tories to find common ground across the whole gamut of a programme for government.

I think that, in a very real sense, the political situation in 2007, coupled with the more limited range of policy issues on which it was necessary to find agreement, created what was close to being a 'one-off' opportunity for the Tories. Time is a great healer, and perceptions change; but from today's starting point, I think it's now much harder to see the Tories in government at all in the Assembly than it was just a year ago.