Ifan Morgan Jones
Some within the Labour Party in Wales have quite cheekily been suggesting over the past week or so that Plaid Cymru is about to jump in bed with the Tories.
Supporters of Vaughan Gething’s bid to become the next First Minister – particularly, it seems, Hefin David AM – have been suggesting that some Plaid Cymru members are privately discussing the possibility of a future pact with the Conservatives.
This seems to be based on Andrew RT Davies’ suggestion in his conference speech that the only way to turf Labour out of Government in Wales is a Tory-Plaid Cymru coalition.
Andrew RT Davies might want a deal, but that doesn’t mean that Plaid Cymru has any interest in one. I’d like a joint bank account with Bill Gates, but it’s not going to happen is it?
Some have pointed to 2007 when Plaid Cymru almost went into a ‘rainbow coalition’ with the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives as a precedent for such an agreement.
But it’s worth noting that conditions then were very different:
- Plaid Cymru was the largest opposition party and their leader would have been First Minister
- There were six Lib Dem Assembly Members, meaning that Plaid and the Lib Dems would have outnumbered the Tories in the coalition 21 to 12
- Nick Bourne, the leader of the Conservatives, was considered to be a centrist and very pro-devolution
- Ieuan Wyn Jones, the leader of Plaid Cymru, was also closer to the political centre than the current Plaid leadership
- Labour, not the Conservatives, were in government at Westminster
It should be noted that even then, despite these more favourable conditions, Plaid Cymru eventually decided to go into coalition with the Labour party instead.
These days, such a coalition would be a complete impossibility, for a number of reasons:
- The Lib Dems have packed their bags and been replaced by UKIP. Plaid Cymru could never consider working with hard-right UKIP, which makes a coalition mathematically impossible from the start. In fact, UKIP can’t seem to form a coalition with themselves, let alone anyone else
- On the biggest issue in politics at the moment, Brexit, the two parties are completely opposed, with Plaid fighting tooth and nail against a Tory-driven Hard Brexit they see as very damaging to Wales’ economy
- The Tories are also very open about their plan to ‘re-Britishize’ Wales, which goes against practically everything Plaid Cymru believes in
- The Welsh Conservatives’ current leader. Andrew RT Davies, is considered to be further to the right than his predecessor, and more conservative on devolution
- The current leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, meanwhile, has taken her party in the other direction, further to the left
- Plaid Cymru have lost two AMs since the election, which means that the Conservatives are now the larger party in the Assembly. Recent history suggests that being the junior party in a coalition doesn’t usually end well
Any kind of Plaid-Conservative coalition is, therefore, be a complete non-starter as it currently stands. And there’s little to suggest that much will have changed politically after the next election in 2021.
So why are Labour suggestion that it’s going to happen? Well, one might suggest that it has a lot to do with the seven-year deal they cut with the Westminster Government just last week.
Plaid Cymru has been accusing Labour of jumping into bed with the Tories, so Labour has attempted to muddy the waters by levelling the same accusation back.
It might also, however, have a lot to do with Vaughan Gething’s leadership campaign.
The current front-runner, Mark Drakeford, is selling himself as a safe pair of hands, as a man who has been on the captain’s bridge since the days of Rhodri Morgan’s time as First Minister.
To overcome this narrative, 41-year-old Vaughan Gething needs to stress the need to move on. The party needs to renew – skip to the next generation – or suffer the electoral consequences.
The way to do that is to plant the seed of doubt in the Labour membership’s minds. Are the twin bogeymen of Plaid and the Tories coming to get them?
Might we need a young, dynamic leader with new ideas to fend them off?
As with almost everything else in Welsh politics, this may have more to do with internal Labour politics than anything else.