Ifan Morgan Jones
Two weeks is a long time in politics. It was only two weekends ago that Welsh Labour were warning that Plaid Cymru, then at their annual conference, were planning to jump into bed with the Conservatives after the next Assembly election.
Plaid Cymru were quick to dismiss the suggestion, with leader Adam Price saying that a miner’s son from the Amman Valey would never consider going into coalition with the Tories.
Not wishing to let it go, First Minister Mark Drakeford suggested a few days later that voters in Newport West were concerned at the thought of a Plaid Cymru/Conservative coalition.
The spectre of a Plaid / Tory coalition is a powerful weapon in Welsh Labour’s arsenal because the only thing keeping them in power in Wales is the reluctancy of the opposition parties to work together.
The Labour vote has swung between the mid-40s and low-30s since the Welsh Assembly was formed, and despite a semi-FPTP system favouring them have never won more than half the 60 seats on offer.
In other words, a ‘rainbow coalition’ as Welsh Government has on paper been a realistic alternative at every election since the Welsh Assembly was formed in 1999.
The latest BBC/ICM poll put Labour them on 25 seats, with Plaid Cymru on 19, the Conservatives on 14, the Lib Dems on one and UKIP on one.
If replicated in 2021, that would be Labour’s worst ever result at a Welsh Assembly election, and Plaid Cymru’s best.
That’s the kind of territory where a Plaid Cymru government would become a realistic prospect, if Plaid Cymru reversed their position and were willing to govern with the tactic support of the Conservatives.
The Conservatives might not even ask for anything in return – for a party primarily focused on Westminster, not having a Labour Government in Wales might be enough of a prize for them.
After all, apart from the small matter of having to resist calls for Independence, Labour’s replacement in Scotland by the SNP has worked out quite well electorally for the Conservative party at Westminster. Labour would now need a much bigger swing to win power there.
The only barrier to all of this happening is Plaid Cymru’s reluctance to govern with the Conservatives’ support. As a socialist party they have an ideological opposition to it, but they also think it would be a vote loser for them if Labour can say that they and the Conservatives are in cahoots.
Therefore, Welsh Labour have been keen to emphasise that the Torys are the Great Satan and that Plaid Cymru would be putting their everlasting souls at risk if they teamed up with them.
Which brings us back to Westminster, where Labour and the Conservatives are the ones very much in cahoots this week.
If the Mail on Sunday can be believed (and I concede that this is a very big ‘if’) Labour are on the verge of agreeing to a Brexit deal with the Conservatives that would see the end of free movement and no second referendum.
In other words, Labour’s Lexit leadership will have conceded much that the party’s membership, and most of their voters, would have considered key demands.
Instead of arguing for a much softer Brexit, the leadership will have settled on something not very far away from Theresa May’s own deal.
But even if UK Labour agreed to a softer Brexit, it would create a big problem for Welsh Labour, because any warnings on the doorstep about Plaid governing with Tory support would sound ridiculous when they themselves teamed up with the Tories to deliver Brexit, one the biggest political issue of the decade.
They would, in politics-speak, be the midwives of Brexit and every one would know it. And Brexit would resonate as an issue in a way discussions on future partnerships at the Welsh Assembly never would.
The idea of working with the Conservatives was further normalised this week when Labour deputy-leader Tom Watson said that he would be happy to “serve in government with pro-Eu Conservatives”.
Now, Labour at Westminster probably haven’t given Welsh Labour a second thought during all of this. But this creates a huge problem for them in their only remaining electoral fortress.
Because if the idea of working with the Tories is normalised, that would leave as the only barrier to a Plaid Cymru government, Plaid’s own reluctance to govern on the back of Tory support.
In the words of Dirty Harry, Welsh Labour only have to ask themselves one question. ‘Do I feel lucky?’
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