Labour really want Plaid to cwtsh up with the Tories – but it makes absolutely no sense to do so
Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives couldn’t really be more ideologically different; nationalist vs staunchly unionist, essentially republican vs overtly royalist, socialist vs free market idealist.
But the idea of a coalition between the two parties has never fully extinguished because it seems to be the only practical hope, in the near future, of replacing the Labour party in government.
To move Labour out of the way, the adherents of a coalition argue, an unlikely partnership may have to be formed between two historic enemies.
It should be noted however that it is often Labour themselves that are most keen to push this idea.
This is because Labour’s strongest argument come election time is that a vote for Plaid Cymru is a vote for the Tories.
In a country that has rejected Conservatism in every Welsh and UK election for a century, it is easy to see why that line would be successful.
But this idea doesn’t just emanate from Labour. At the Welsh Conservative conference this month, Andrew RT Davies used his speech to plead outright with Plaid to work with them to move Labour out of the way.
“No one party has a monopoly on good ideas,” he told his audience – not an easy thing to say about Plaid to an audience of strident, active Conservative Party members, I’m sure.
Unfortunately for RT Davies, the Prime Minister used her speech later in the day to attack Plaid for wanting to end the Union.
The Welsh Tory Leader is clearly open, and in fact pushing for, the idea of working with Plaid – but the rhetoric used at his own conference betrays the difficulties that this would represent for his party.
But it doesn’t really matter what Labour and the Tories want.
Apart from a brief dalliance with the idea of a coalition in 2007, there is no such enthusiasm coming from Plaid Cymru. Leanne Wood, who comes from the Party’s strong left-wing tradition, has ruled it out completely.
In my experience as a Plaid activist, there doesn’t seem to be much support for the idea inside the party, either.
But if you are one of them, here is why it won’t, and shouldn’t, happen.
These three tests must all be passed for a Plaid/Tory coalition (or any coalition) to work:
1) Will Plaid and the Tories both get something they want out of the coalition?
Plaid want to demonstrate to the public that Wales can only make big strides forward on the economy if we take matters into our own hands.
No more relying on centralised government in Cardiff or London or, crucially, multinational corporations.
But anything that demonstrated that Wales could build it own internal economy would be anathema to the Tories’ ideas about how the UK works.
Welsh Economic Development policy under Labour has been incredibly similar to that of the Tories – attracting Foreign Direct Investment at all costs, providing loans for small businesses to boost self-employment figures, and further integration into the regions of England (Severnside, Chester-Deeside etc).
So presumably, there wouldn’t be a huge shift if the Tories came to be in power in Wales.
Hashing out a coalition deal between two ideological opposites would probably just leave us with something similar to what we have now.
A centrist, more-of-the-same Government of any stripes is not what Wales needs, or what devolution needs. There’s nothing in it for Plaid.
2) Would Wales have a strong voice representing it within the UK and internationally?
No, it wouldn’t. The current UK polls suggest that the Tories are on track for yet another election victory at a UK level.
Plaid binding themselves to the Tories in Cardiff Bay would fine it much more difficult to criticise anything the Tory UK Government was doing.
And what a loss that would be for Wales – often, it is only Plaid MPs in the House of Commons or AMs in the Assembly who are willing to outrightly criticise the decisions coming out of Westminster.
Just look at the Withdrawal Bill – it was only because of pressure from Steffan Lewis that Wales, for once, led the way on opposing the power grab by the UK Government. And even then, Labour capitulated at the last minute.
Plaid’s job as a nationalist party is to argue that Westminster isn’t working for Wales, and to work to release Wales from their control.
Having their hands tied by not being able to criticise their coalition partners in Cardiff Bay would be a disaster, and ultimately, unworkable.
3) Would a Plaid/Tory Coalition government last?
I can’t see how it would. A coalition agreement can only be workable if there is a unifying vision between the two partners.
It worked in 2007 between Plaid and Labour – further devolution, clear red water, and the need for stable government meant that the coalition was not only possible, but necessary.
The same could be said for the agreement between the Tories and the Lib Dems in 2010.
Both sides were committed to austerity, and David Cameron’s attempted modernisation of the Tories matched Clegg’s liberalism on areas such as gay marriage.
There is no such unifying vision for government between Plaid and the Tories other than a long-held desire to get Labour out of government.
The Tory vision is of a British Wales, with an economy heavily integrated with and reliant on Liverpool and Bristol, with low cost of living meaning high-paid jobs aren’t a priority, and with young people encouraged to fly the nest and make a success of themselves elsewhere.
Plaid’s vision is of Wales as a new, unified, socially democratic economic entity.
A coalition needs more than just an agreement at the start – it has to react to events, make quick decisions, and there is simply not a chance that Plaid’s and the Tories’ visions match in a way that would make this government viable.
While a Plaid-Conservative deal might, at best, kick Labour out of power for a few years, it wouldn’t make long-term electoral sense.
Labour want Plaid to go into coalition with the Tories for a reason because it would give them a stick to beat us with for decades after that.
For Plaid to get elected or for us to win independence, we need to gain the support of Labour voters in the valleys, north-east Wales and elsewhere.
Going into coalition with the Tories immediately puts us on the back foot, for no obvious policy wins.
Regardless of political positioning, the goal of Plaid Cymru should always be to implement policies that take us closer to a stronger, fairer and more independent Welsh economy.
The realistic aim ahead of the next election, therefore, can’t be a coalition with the Tories, but minority government and working with all interested AMs to implement our nationalist, egalitarian and sustainable vision for Wales.
So – Plaid and the Tories – will they, won’t they? No they won’t, nor should they.
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