Plaid Cymru's left collapses
Last week Plaid Cymru's left AMs voted to support the 'One Wales' document that now seems likely to form the basis of a Labour-Plaid coalition government in the Welsh assembly over the next four years. Bob Davies reports
Having fought within their party to reject the 'All-Welsh accord'- the policy that, until only three weeks ago, was being sold by many AMs in the Senedd as the programme for governing Wales under a 'rainbow alliance' of Plaid, Tories and Liberal Democrats - Plaid's five rebel AMs must have been hard pressed to spot something of substance within this new document. Perhaps the assembly's first minister, Rhodri Morgan, speaking about it as a "new beginning" or Plaid's leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, who only recently was praising the All-Welsh accord, bleating about 'One Wales' as an "historical moment for the people of Wales" had some influence in winning them over.
While Plaid's left AMs have yet to voice publicly their reasons for backing this current document, we can speculate that their thought processes may not be too dissimilar to those of their Westminster colleague, Plaid MP Adam Price (a member of the now inactive, if not defunct, leftwing Triban Coch grouping). He has certainly sold the deal as a progressive political development. On June 28 - two days after Labour and Plaid AMs had formally agreed the new policy document - Price's blog spoke of 'One Wales' in positive terms:
"If we are what we say we are, a socialist party, a party of the left, then, all things being equal, when presented with a progressive programme in alliance with another party of the left or an alternative programme in alliance with the political right, then our natural tendency should be to choose left. If we embraced the rainbow under these circumstances, then the message we would send to the people of Wales is that our adoption of socialism in our party's aims for 26 years was just for show. We would have appeared unprincipled, opportunistic and ideologically rudderless. In other words, we would have looked like the Liberal Democrats. And none of us would have wanted that" (www.adamprice.org.uk/blog/2007/06/28).
But if the Plaid left think that they are really socialists, then it is clear that they should not support any administration, even it claims to be of the left, which is committed to administering capitalism. So what we really have is the Plaid left squaring the circle of their consciences in what is a grubby deal about getting hands on power.
Like the All-Welsh accord previously signed up to by the Plaid leadership and scuttled by the Liberal Democrats, 'One Wales' contains the platitudes expected from a politics that is characterised by backroom deals between mainstream parties - proposals for real change and measures to improve workers' social and economic rights are, unsurprisingly, absent.
Whilst the document contains vague anti-privatisation soundbites about "moving purposefully" to end the internal market in the NHS, general commitments on, for example, education are hazy and range from providing "extra assistance with student debt" to initiating "a pilot scheme for laptops for children".
However, if Price's views are anything to go by, the left AMs will talk up such elements. It seems that the programme contained in 'One Wales' will not only "make Welsh-medium education a right at every level from the nursery to university", but "will bring the right to a decent home within the grasp of every citizen" too. To finance this the Welsh government "will cut business taxes to boost the economy", wrote Price the following day (www.adamprice.org.uk/blog/2007/06/29).
Another element that Price, along with the Plaid leadership, is selling is the commitment to a referendum on the introduction of further powers for the assembly. But even this is far from certain. Both parties will need to "assess the levels of support for full lawmaking powers necessary to trigger the referendum". It appears that Plaid may yet find itself at the mercy of a Labour veto on the question. Nevertheless, the rest of Plaid's left may also take some ideological comfort from this promise. After all, like their counterparts in Scotland, Welsh left nationalists regard the diminution of UK powers over Wales as progressive in and of itself.
However, there exists a degree of uneasiness throughout the membership of both parties over the new alliance. This weekend, both the Plaid and Labour membership will be participating in their special (closed) conferences called to ratify 'One Wales'.
Morgan's confidence that he has secured support amongst Welsh Labour TUC leaders for the deal is matched by the assertion of Wyn Jones, backed up by his deputy, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, of having grassroots backing. Yet, given that some Labour activists feel uneasy about entering into government with "the nationalists", while many Plaid members hate the thought of cosying up to "British unionists", support for the pact may not be as overwhelming as the party leaders expect.