Tuesday, May 10, 2011
REFLECTIONS ON THE ASSEMBLY ELECTION RESULT
As I write this column in California, last week’s Welsh Assembly elections seem a long way away.
With Labour hinting that, despite winning 30 seats, they would be considering agreements with other parties to secure a working majority, being on the other side of the World may be the best place to be when the political horse-trading commences!
It has been a fascinating election for a number of reasons.
First of all, I am sure, that despite smiling faces on Friday, the Welsh Labour Party will be bitterly disappointed at not securing a majority.
Given that they fought the election arguing that this was an opportunity for voters to pass judgement on the UK Coalition Government, there must be disenchantment amongst Labour ranks that they failed to pick up enough constituencies to give them a secure majority in Cardiff Bay.
After all, if you had listened to Labour’s statements during the campaign, then you would think that David Cameron’s government is the most unpopular in recent political history.
Yet, not only did the Welsh Conservative Party hold their own during the election, but increased their popular vote to 25% in the constituency vote and even gained two further seats in North and Mid Wales.
Certainly, congratulations are due to Janet Finch Saunders for beating both Plaid and Labour to take Aberconwy and Russell George in emulating Glyn Davies in Montgomery. It also gives the party the opportunity, as the official opposition, the opportunity to build a real alternative to what is expected to be a more left wing Labour Party than in the past.
So whilst Labour and the Conservatives both have their own reasons to be cheerful, the other two political parties in Wales have much to ponder.
The Liberal Democrats can consider themselves lucky to have only lost one seat, given that their vote largely collapsed across most of Wales. In fact, most of Labour’s increase in votes was largely at the expense of the Liberal Democrats in nearly every seat in Wales.
Yet, given the talk around Cardiff Bay over the weekend, the real losers in the election may yet end up as part of the next Welsh Assembly Government.Before doing so, perhaps Kirsty Williams should have a word with Ieuan Wyn Jones as he and Plaid Cymru certainly expected to at least hold their ground within this election as a result of their four years in government.
Yet, in losing four seats, the party has gone backwards in advancing its cause within Wales.
Some has said that the collective responsibility of coalition government made it very difficult for Plaid to directly attack Labour. Indeed, how could Ieuan and his colleagues condemn low educational standards, poor economic performance and a failing health service when these very subjects were discussed with Labour colleagues every week around the Cabinet table?
As to Plaid’s future, some members are already suggesting that it should reject any overtures from Labour for a further coalition and return to the backbenches to consider their next move. Given the briefings over the weekend (both official and unofficial), there seem to be those within Plaid who still rue the day four years ago when they chose Labour over a rainbow coalition, enabling Wales’ largest party to continue its hegemonic control over the Welsh Assembly and, more importantly, to relegate Plaid Cymru to minority partners, a situation that clearly contributed to their electoral failings this time round.
Of course, the former Presiding Officer is one member that does not this view, although he seems to have ignored the most relevant outcome of last week’s election (and one that has yet to be picked up by the commentariat) which is that, for the first time, Wales’ electoral map has been neatly split into two as shown in the figure above.
There is rural Wales, where the seats are held by the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Lib-Dems, and the old industrial heartlands of North East and South Wales, which are exclusively Labour. Indeed, if Labour do decide to govern alone, who will take up the brief for Rural Affairs or will the department be changed again and given to an urban-based AM?
Given this, it is critical that those Assembly members in rural areas ensure that all parts of Wales, and not those that are represented by Labour, benefit equally from the policies of the next Welsh government. That is the main challenge if our nation is to progress as one over the next five years.