Cross-party alliances are a valid way of fighting back against Westminster’s flawed FPTP monopoly

Walles’ Lib Dem leader Jane Dodds (left) and Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price (right). Pictures by the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru.

Ifan Morgan Jones

For over a hundred years Wales has been something of a side-show at General Elections.

The Tories have not won a majority here since the Reform Act of 1864 which gave most male householders the vote.

Since Wales became anything close to a representative democracy, it has been a Liberal and then Labour stronghold, and the Conservatives have not had much of a look in.

The Tories reached their high watermark in 1983 when they took 14 seats to Labour’s 20, but as recently as 2001 they did not hold a single seat in all of Wales.

However, this time Wales is central to the Tory mission to win a majority. If the current polls are correct the Conservatives could win a large number of margial seats across the country.

Once they reach a tipping point of a 2.5% or so swing the gains could quickly become something of an avalanche.

They could easily capture Alyn and Deeside, Bridgend, Cardiff North, Clwyd South, Delyn, Gower, Newport West, Vale of Clwyd, and Wrexham from Labour.

That would put them on 17 seats to Labour’s 18. If they also captured Brecon & Radnor from the Liberal Democrats and Ynys Môn, a three-way marginal, they could be the largest party in Wales.

Wales is now therefore no longer a side-show but a swing seat. Alongside the north-east of England it is the battleground of this election. An Ohio-like, bell-weather state.

It is also the nation within the UK where the impact of this General Election could be felt most keenly. A majority for the Conservatives could have a profound effect on Wales beyond Brexit.

Last week Boris Johnson suggested in the House of Commons that the Scottish Parliament could “forfeit its right to manage” the Scottish NHS.

The subtext was clear – once Brexit is done, we’re coming for devolution.

For Plaid Cymru, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, there is more at stake here than just Brexit, but the future of Wales as a political, and perhaps cultural, entity.

 

Idealism

It is in this context that we should consider recently proposed plans by the Greens, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru to come to an electoral compact.

Ideally such a compact should also include Labour. They could step aside in seats such as Brecon and Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire, in return for Lib Dem backing in seats like Newport West.

Of course, ideally, every party should stand in every seat and give voters a full choice. But the First Past the Post system in which Westminster elections are fought makes idealism impossible.

Wales is a good example of why this is the case. Between them, the three progressive parties of Plaid Cymru, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are currently on 53% of the vote to the Conservatives’ 29%.

But because this progressive vote will be split three ways it will count for little. Progressivism in Wales will be punished because it is popular.

In the current political environment, with so much at stake, pragmatism has to trump tribalism.

Ironically, the best hope of changing First Past the Post is for progressive parties to use the system’s inherent flaws to their advantage to defeat those who know their monopoly on power depends on its continuation.

Abstain

Some Plaid Cymru members and voters, in particular, have been turned off by the idea of making a deal with the Liberal Democrats because they are a ‘Westminster party’.

This point of view would be fine if they were suggesting that Plaid Cymru should abstain from Westminster elections altogether.

However, they are of the opinion that Plaid Cymru should contest Westminster elections. They simply want Plaid Cymru to play by Westminster’s rather arbitrary rules.

But since Westminster’s own First Past the Post system is designed to exclude parties such as Plaid Cymru, there would be nothing more anti-Westminster than turning its own First Past the Post electoral system against it.

Furthermore, the bargain Plaid Cymru looks like striking with the Liberal Democrats will benefit Plaid Cymru much more than the Lib Dems.

Plaid Cymru will stand aside in Montgomeryshire and Brecon and Radmore, seats where they had 5.6% and in 3.1% of the vote in 2017 – i.e. there is no realistic prospect of a Plaid Cymru victory there.

Meanwhile it looks as if the Lib Dems will stand aside in at least five seats Plaid Cymru need to win or are currently defending.

The other criticism of this alliance is that the Lib Dems are ideologically not a good fit with Plaid Cymru. Under their new leader Jo Swinson, the Lib Dems have tacked to the right on the economy and benefits.

Again, I think pragmatism trumps idealism here. In a seat is a two-horse race between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, it is clear that the former is ideologically closer to Plaid Cymru’s position.

Practical

The alliance is, therefore, a good idea for these parties – in theory.

However, the real test is how the Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrat and Green alliance will work in practice.

Voters are not, of course, goods that can simply be handed over from one party to another like a bank transaction.

If the alliance is just a matter of one party not running an election campaign in a seat, there is a danger of unintended consequences.

For instance, what is top stop Liberal Democrat or Plaid Cymru voters backing the Conservatives instead? There are plenty of staunchly Unionist Lib Dem voters and Brexit-supporting Plaid Cymru voters.

For the alliance to work out, the parties will probably need to continue to send out campaign material, but backing the other party rather than their own. Is that a realistic prospect?

Plaid Cymru might, however, argue that the greatest boost the alliance will have on their prospects is that it will be a news story that will be continuously mentioned not just in Wales, but across UK media as well.

By drawing attention to the fact that both the Liberal Democrats and Greens are happy to endorse them in some seats, Plaid Cymru are ensuring that voters receive two key messages:

  1. That they are a party that is explicitly backing Remain.
  2. That they are not just a party for rural Welsh-speakers but can appeal to urban progressives as well.

In a General Election, where Plaid Cymru often suffer from a lack of attention, that in itself might be a calculated price worth paying for sitting the election out in Powys.

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David Roberts
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David Roberts

I have voted for no-one but Plaid for nearly 30 years. No more. This is the final nail in the coffin. I will never vote for them again!!!

vicky moller
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vicky moller

why david? if its results we want we need to use our flag from the rear sometimes, not just wave it to get shot down that is more glorious

David Roberts
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David Roberts

A number of reasons, now culminating in Plaid telling us to vote for the Unionist Lib Dems. They have actually given the Lib Dems the keys to get back in the house. A TOTAL sell out imo. Sad times!

Alwyn Evans
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Alwyn Evans

David – that’s as logical as burning your own home down . I’m totally against tbe Unionist pretensions of the Lib-Dems, but unless you live in one of the proposed constitencies – Brecon and Radnor or Montgomery – it doesn’t affect you. If you do live there, what other non-Unionist party are you going to vote for? You still have the choice there of with-holding your vote.

David Roberts
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David Roberts

It’s the principle of the matter. All that seems to matter to Plaid is avoiding brexit……nothing else matters, independence is irrelevant!! I’m one of the 42% of Plaid voters who voted leave……I will either not vote, or will vote to get brexit done and dusted (as the best way to break up the UK). I will not return to Plaid in the future.

Eos Pengwern
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Gwlad Gwlad is there for people like you David; you’d be welcome to join us.

David Roberts
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David Roberts

I had high hopes for Ein Gwlad, but they seemed to be disintegrating before our eyes, having been taken over by climate change denier extremists….so that’s a red line crossed for me, I’m afraid. It’s a shame!

jr Humphrys
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jr Humphrys

Boris is your man, then!

Richard
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Richard

“…brexit done and dusted”. This is the line pedalled by the Daily Mail and dishonest politicians. We will have years and years of negotiations over a trade deal if and when we leave the EU (during which time we will have very little negotiating power). But I’m curious to know how you think brexit will benefit Wales and Welsh independence.

Jonathan Edwards
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Jonathan Edwards

Alwyn – I vote in Preseli and want to vote Remain. Tory Leaver Crabb has a wafer-thin majority, with Labour just behind him. Labour candidate (ex-Foreign Office, ex-Brussels, presumably pro-EU, which is good for Preseli if only because of the CAP) told me that she’d follow the Labour line. Listening to Corbyn, this is useless for Preseli because Corbyn is listening to his leavers in the North of England. Not to Preseli. I suppose I must vote tactically for Labour, because only Labour can get Crabb out. But I am fed up over this. Lib Dem Kilminster in Preseli is… Read more »

Alun
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Alun

If Sinn Fein can stand aside for a Unionist in North Down people really should be able to cope with Plaid co-operating a bit with a devolutionist party.

Powys fab
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Powys fab

Dadansoddiad diddorol. Mae’n bris uchel i rhai ohonom o Bowys.

Wexit
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Wexit

This is a very technocratic argument you’ve presented here Ifan. As if it’s just parties’ immediate electoral prospects through the Brexit prism which are important. Without comsidering the wider ramifications for democracy. One element you have missed out altogether is the lack of any genuine consultation with Plaid members and supporters in Maldwyn and Brycheiniog and Maesyfed about this idea of standing down for an unionist party. I know for a fact that there are such people in those two constituencies who are outraged at this smoky, backooom deal cooked up between Dodds and Price. Including Elwyn Vaughan, the prospective… Read more »

Ben Angwin
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Ben Angwin

Dwi’n cefnogi creu pont rhwng y Dem Rhydd a Phlaid Cymru.

Mae mwy tebygrwydd rhwng y ddau ohonom na gwahaniaethau.

pete
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pete

If Plaid win a seat on the back of Liberal votes then that MP has no right to campaign for welsh seperatism

David Roberts
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David Roberts

Why Jacques?

pete
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pete

Because the Liberals aren’t a seperatist party, dumbo

Ernie The Smallholder
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Ernie The Smallholder

Does that mean if the Liberals win a seat with the backing of a Plaid Cymru vote they must drop unionism and fight for Welsh independence?
It works both ways.
It is just a way of getting the most progressives elected under the rigged UK FPTP system, which none of our parties agree with.

jr Humphrys
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jr Humphrys

The idea is to Remain in the EU, gaining enough power for Independence.
Separatism , if that’s the word you are looking for, is not sought, unless you mean Tories, Ukip, BP, etc.

Ernie The Smallholder
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Ernie The Smallholder

Such a pact is for the UK Westminster elections ONLY. This pact is to protect devolution in the next UK government by reducing the Tory unionist hold on Wales under the discredited FPTP system they use to split and rig the election. This will actually enhance the profile of Plaid Cymru ny winning more seats and increase the demand for more powers to the Welsh parliament. Liberal democrats are although a unionist are a federalist party wanting more powers for the Welsh parliament. This will not affect Plaid Cymru contesting every seat in the Welsh parliamentary election in 2021. It… Read more »

Alwyn J Evans
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Alwyn J Evans

This is a Westinster unionists election, the winners will be overwhelmingly unionists, Plaid securing influence and protecting Wales from their tiny mandate, is in the national interest.

People had no idea what they were voting for in the EU referendum and now they do, it is good news that plaid will work to protect people from an ignorant choice. A second referendum is inevitable and Plaid may be in a position to reap dividends from this decision.

Gwylon Phillips
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Gwylon Phillips

I am uneasy at the thought of doing a deal with the LibDems. This is the party who enabled the Tories to introduce its distressing austerity. Remember student fees? I will do everything to kick the Tories out but sitting MPs should NOT be a part of any deal.

MawKernewek
Guest

Perhaps a LibDem candidate benefiting from any other party standing aside ought to give a personal guarantee they won’t be propping up a Conservative government as they did in 2010?

Paul
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Paul

It’s good there is Labour to vote for then, at least they are offering to negotiate a closer relationship with EU to keep goods and services flowing and a confirmatory referendum on this or remaining in the EU and although not Independence supporters in their policy Jeremy Corbyn would offer an independence vote if asked; plus you could join Labour 4 Indy Wales and help change the policy – what’s not to like?

Stuart Stanton
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Stuart Stanton

I carried out some maverick, unstructured canvassing for Plaid in the Powys border areas at time of last Assembly elections. All people wanted to talk about was Europe, Europe, Europe. Got the impression that both the Senedd and Westminster had no connection with their daily lives at all. Europe became the scapegoat for it all. Nothing (T. May) has Changed.

Gwynfor Edwards
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Gwynfor Edwards

I cannot see what Plaid Cymru would gain from a pact with the Unionist, pro austerity Lib Dems. Jo Swinson is a nasty opportunist who will do and say anything to get into power. So if the election results in another hung parliament and the Lib Dems decide to support the Tories again because the UK “needs” strong government, Plaid will have supported interests which are diametrically opposed to theirs. They would be rightly hammered by Labour for years to come. Ditch this mad idea.

GWYN WILLIAMS
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GWYN WILLIAMS

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are a Federalist not an Unionist Party. A federal Wales in a Federal Britain and a federal Britain in a federal Europe. Unless Nigel Farage’s 19th century definition of an independent United Kingdom is applied to Wales then the future relationship of England and Wales will have to be based on pooled sovereignty in a federal country.

CapM
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CapM

Why be part of a Federation within a Federation.
Finland is a full member of the EU. I think you’d have zero luck in telling them that they’d be better off funneling their influence, needs, interests to the EU through a Scandinavian federation.