RHODRI MORGAN was last night threatened with civil war in his own party after promising Plaid Cymru that the Welsh Labour machine would be mobilised behind a Yes campaign in a new devolution referendum.
The mood last night was described by a Labour source as “depressing” as the party sought to clarify its options in a bid to hold on to power in the Assembly.
The Labour group at the Assembly was said to be deeply divided over a draft document for a coalition deal with Plaid.
And there was said to be the possibility of ditching Plaid, leaving them in the lurch, and re-entering negotiations on a deal with the Lib-Dems instead.
Last night the party’s Welsh Executive met and decided to hold a special conference to make a final decision on any deal on July 6 – the day before Plaid’s National Council meets. Labour’s Welsh Executive will meet again to consider what its recommendation to the special conference should be.
In a parallel development, it became clear that Labour opponents of a deal with Plaid will step up their efforts to revive the possibility of a deal with the Liberal Democrats.
A Labour backbencher said after yesterday’s group meeting, “Lots of us were concerned about the Plaid document. The mood was depressing.
“The group is deeply divided. If Rhodri tries to force this through at a special conference by stitching up the union vote, there will be hell to pay.
“It is the view of many in the Labour group, and the wider party, that any deal with Plaid should now be off the cards, simply because we realise how much damage it will do to the party.”
It is understood that the document negotiated with Plaid gave a firm commitment to holding a referendum on full lawmaking powers for the Assembly within the next four years. There is also a commitment that the Welsh Labour machine would swing behind a campaign for a Yes vote.
But the Labour backbencher told the Western Mail, “Whatever Rhodri says about getting the party behind a Yes campaign, there will be massive opposition to it across the country. A lot of the MPs won’t accept it and nor will a lot of grassroots activists.”
There were also indications that other aspects of the proposed deal with Plaid were not to the taste of some AMs. Statements about public services were said to be “more to the left” than the position in Wales up to now, and designed to gain support for the deal from the trade unions.
There were further complications in sight, however. It seems that if Labour succeeds in peeling away Plaid Cymru from the rainbow coalition, there will be attempts to revive the possibility of a deal with the Liberal Democrats.
A Liberal Democrat source told the Western Mail, “Plaid needs to be very careful. If they walk away from the rainbow coalition, they may very well end up with nothing.
“A major part of Labour’s strategy appears to be to peel away Plaid from the rainbow alliance with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
“If they succeed in doing so, there is no doubt that those powerful forces within Labour that would rather do a deal with the Lib-Dems will agitate for that option to be reopened. Indeed, the agitation has already begun.
“Plaid might be best advised to stick with the rainbow coalition and not create a scenario where the Liberal Democrats could come back to Labour.”
Yesterday the Western Mail published leaked emails sent by Torfaen Labour AM Lynne Neagle to National Assembly Business Manager Jane Hutt in which she complained that insufficient attempts had been made to revive the prospect of a deal with the Liberal Democrats.
A senior Plaid source said, “Plaid needs to be very much on its guard against Labour’s Machiavellian tactics. It is certainly part of Labour’s tactics to break up the rainbow alliance, and that could very well be their main motivation in making their offer to us.
“From what I hear of the negotiations with Labour, it would very much be a Labour government with Plaid in a junior role. That doesn’t sound attractive to me, and I don’t think it will appeal to a lot of other Plaid members either.”
There are also concerns within Plaid that if a referendum is seen as a Plaid policy forced on Labour simply to keep the larger party in power, many Labour voters will not be inclined to vote Yes.
Former Tory AM Glyn Davies said, “I found it very interesting that while being interviewed on BBC’s Dragon’s Eye, Rhodri Morgan clearly invited (Liberal Democrat Assembly leader) Mike German to contact him. He may very well be tempted to do so.
“If Labour does a deal with Plaid, the Lib-Dems will be very marginalised, and in danger of appearing irrelevant.
“Obviously a lot of people in Labour, including the MPs and a lot of grassroots activists in places like the Valleys, would much prefer to do a deal with the Liberal Democrats.”
Labour was putting on a united front last night after an afternoon of meetings, saying party members and affiliates will have the final say on any deal to form a coalition government with Plaid Cymru.
The Welsh Labour executive committee said the party had reached a “momentous point” in its history.
A spokesman yesterday evening stressed that the final decision on which path to take will be made by the 337-member national council.
The decision by the Welsh Labour executive committee to hold the special conference followed about two hours and 40 minutes of discussion at Cardiff’s Transport House.
The body will meet again before July 6 to decide on a recommendation to give to the special conference.
Welsh Labour chairman Tecwyn Thomas said afterwards, “This is a momentous point in the history of Welsh Labour and the politics of Wales.
“With such a major and vital decision facing the Labour Party and Wales, the executive feels it is right and proper that the wider party be consulted in the fairest and most open way possible.
“We have therefore decided that should a party decision be required on Labour entering a coalition in the National Assembly for Wales, then a special conference will be called to allow the membership of our part and party affiliates to have their say.”
Welsh Secretary Peter Hain did not take part in the discussions but was represented by Nick Ainger, MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire.
Today Plaid’s Assembly group and national executive meet in Aberystwyth to consider the document negotiated with Labour.
The 30 members of the body will discuss whether to enter government with Labour, the party which has traditionally been its greatest rival, or forge an unprecedented alliance with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
Unless the national executive decides otherwise, a final decision on any deal is expected to be taken at Plaid’s larger national council meeting on July 7.