A NEW theory has been put forward about why Plaid Cymru ducked out of leading its own Assembly Government following last May’s election.
At one point it seemed likely that Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones would become First Minister in a “Rainbow Coalition” government including his own party, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
Eventually, of course, Plaid opted to become the junior partner in a coalition with Labour.
In an article for the Institute of Welsh Affairs’ Agenda journal, Vaughan Roderick, the BBC’s Welsh Affairs Editor, argues there were two reasons behind Plaid’s decision. The first, which has been widely aired, is that the Liberal Democrats became regarded as unreliable after their national executive failed to back the rainbow deal.
Mr Roderick says the source of what happened can also be traced back more than 30 years.
He writes, “The second reason for Plaid’s decision is to do with guts, or the lack of them. A little-remembered event from the 1970s is still seared into the memories of Plaid’s leadership.
“In 1976 it briefly appeared that the party had made its longed for political breakthrough in the Valleys, taking control of Merthyr and Rhymney Valley Councils. The latter experience proved productive. A minority administration reached an accommodation with Labour, and Plaid has remained a major force in Caerphilly ever since.
“In Merthyr Plaid crashed and burned, mired in a swamp of scandal, inexperience and obstructive council officers. It has never recovered.
“As a party of perpetual opposition, Plaid simply didn’t feel ready to lead a government. The Rainbow could have proved to be Merthyr. A deal with Labour was the Rhymney Valley option.”
Assessing the prospects for the other parties, Mr Roderick writes, “Despite their at times farcical actions, the Liberal Democrats can and will recover. The local government base looks pretty solid and a gradual expansion at that level of government should eventually feed through into Assembly list seats. The party has work to do, though, to convince the other Assembly groups that it could be a credible and reliable partner.”
Mr Roderick says the Conservatives have succeeded, in part at least, in burying their old image as an “alien” party somehow removed from the Welsh mainstream.
The party likely to experience the most profound effects following the formation of the coalition is Labour, argues Mr Roderick.
He states, “Devolution – and more general questions of Welsh and British identity – has long been to many in the Labour Party what Europe is to many Conservatives – an issue where emotion often trumps reason.
“Can it really be argued that there weren’t or aren’t basic ideological differences between, say, Aneurin Bevan, George Thomas, Neil Kinnock and Huw Lewis on the one hand, and Jim Griffiths, Cledwyn Hughes, Paul Flynn and Carwyn Jones on the other?
“The deal with Plaid was without doubt a victory for the latter tradition. It was an important victory, too, but hardly a final one in the long battle for the soil of Welsh Labour. The debate will continue, but for now the devolutionists are in the driving seat.”