Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Cherchez L'agenda

A somewhat plaintive complaint from an unnamed Labour source formed the basis of a story in today’s Western Mail. It seems that there may be some people in the Labour Party – who, if they really exist, prefer to remain anonymous – who think that it’s out of order for Plaid to form any sort of arrangement with any party other than Labour to run our councils.

At one level, this merely underlines the fact that there are people in the Labour party who still can’t get their heads around a more pluralist form of democracy; they believe that they have the right to dictate to their partner what they can or can’t do. (But it is apparently OK for the Labour Party to form alliances with Tories as Guerrilla Welsh-Fare points out. Or is that only OK because the Tories in some areas don't call themselves Tories, but pretend to be independent councillors?)

At another level, however, I start to look for the agenda and who’s pushing it. It’s easy to understand why a Labour source would see only one side of the story; but I’d expect more from an objective journalist (I’m afraid that I’ve been unable to resist oxymorons since I first found out what they were during my English ‘O’ level lessons).

The Western Mail’s Chief Reporter is, of course, a man with an agenda. During the coalition talks almost a year ago, he did his very best to push one particular outcome to the talks – and it wasn’t the one we got. Plaid personalities supportive of the rainbow were quoted extensively; opponents were largely ignored. And if there is one person in the whole of Wales who is still determinedly pushing the rainbow, it is none other than the same Chief Reporter. From that perspective, this story should come as no surprise.

There are two things wrong, quite apart from asking whether it is really the role of a journalist, with the continued references to a resurrected rainbow.

The first is that it was, as I have argued previously, an idea which had only limited potential from the outset. In the particular circumstances of a single election, within an Assembly which had only limited powers, it was perhaps possible to put together a programme on which Plaid and the Tories could have agreed. (And as a parallel, the very fact that county councils have even more limited powers is part of what makes possible the assortment of arrangements which we are seeing). But as the Assembly grows in powers, that gap between those two parties becomes ever more difficult to bridge.

The second is that circumstances have changed in another way. Even twelve months ago, it was difficult to see how any party could challenge the Labour party for dominance; and cracking that dominance was one of the arguments for a once-off non-Labour alliance. That has all changed – the Labour party seems to be moving into self-destruct mode, with a real danger of implosion in its heartlands. The idea of another party having more seats than Labour in the Assembly starts to look like a credible possibility for 2011.

They say that, in any war, most generals are still fighting the last one. The same seems to be true for supporters of this particular agenda.

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