THE Liberal Democrats yesterday launched a fierce attack on Plaid Cymru’s record as Labour’s coalition partner.
Lib-Dems accused the nationalist party of being dominated by First Minister Rhodri Morgan’s Labour group and presented itself as the strongest champion of devolution in Welsh politics.
Christine Humphreys, the Lib-Dems’ Welsh president, said, “Let’s be brutally frank here. We don’t have a Labour-Plaid government – we just have more of what we had before the election: Labour.
“Labour policies, Labour decisions, Labour complacency.
“Plaid promised us something different. What did they give us? More Morgan.”
She added, “Will someone please tell me where Plaid have influenced Labour, forced Labour to change direction, forced Labour to implement a Plaid policy?”
Ms Humphreys said Plaid had lacked the courage to lead a coalition with her party and the Conservatives and was now in danger of fragmenting.
She said, “Plaid Cymru is an umbrella group; it’s almost a coalition in itself. It covers very different people. It’s made up of socialists in the Valleys, Liberals in some areas and Conservatives in others.
“It’s their passion for the language and culture of Wales that is the glue holding them together. But within there is such a wide range of conflicting views that under the pressure of Government there is a danger that it could come apart.”
Welsh Lib-Dem leader Mike German told the conference in Llandudno that Plaid had been left “high and dry” by Labour having been “lured in by the bait of a referendum”.
He said, “Plaid Cymru have been tucked up by Labour. Plaid Cymru rejected the opportunity to lead a different kind of government. They rejected the opportunity to lead a different kind of government. They turned their backs on the best programme for government this country never head.
“They will pay the price for that as time goes on.”
But Plaid Cymru AM Helen Mary Jones said the comments represented “sour grapes”.
She argued her party had successfully forced Labour to give nurses their pay settlement in full and stop its plans for hospital reconfiguration.
She said, “Of course the Government is having to deliver at a moment when money is tight and that would have been true for any government at this time. What we’ve got in the One Wales Government is a shared vision of how we want to transform our communities – we saw very little of that shared vision when the Liberal Democrats were in Government.”
The Lib-Dem conference closed yesterday without internal recriminations surfacing over last year’s failure to secure a role in coalition with either Labour or Plaid and the Conservatives. Members also decided to postpone a decision on proposed changes to the constitution which would have formally established the head of the Assembly group as the overall leader of the Welsh party.
Montgomeryshire MP Lembit Opik said the party should use its time in opposition to focus and generate a new vision.
He said, “I wanted us to be in power, preferably with Labour. I’m disappointed we didn’t take the power.
“There is a large onus on those who opposed the deals to put their money where their mouth is. This is their time. They voted for it and they got it. We have to show progress.”
Any rivalry between potential successors to Mike German as leader of the Assembly group was successfully contained. Conference organisers were determined this would not overshadow the party’s drive to win new seats in the May elections.
Increasingly, the three female Lib-Dem AMs – Eleanor Burnham, Jenny Randerson, and Kirsty Williams – are seen as the leading candidates.
Ms Burnham would use her position as a North Wales AM and champion of the Welsh language as an election platform.
When asked if she would stand if it was possible to secure a nomination, she said, “Why not? If it happens, it will happen. If it doesn’t, I’ll carry on doing my best for North Wales.”