RHODRI MORGAN has no more than a 50-50 chance of being First Minister in six weeks’ time, according to the man in line to depose him.
Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones told the Western Mail last night he did not believe a minority Labour administration was capable of providing Wales with a stable government.
Until two weeks ago Mr Jones was on course to become First Minister of a so-called rainbow coalition. And last night he appeared to suggest it was not a question of if, but a question of when, Mr Morgan will be removed.
He promised the Labour Government would face testing conditions in the coming weeks as it looks to govern with a minority in the Senedd.
The ultimatum for Mr Morgan came on the day he welcomed the Queen to mark the beginning of the Welsh Assembly’s life as a lawmaking body.
Accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Queen said Wales was entering a “new era for devolution” when she opened the third Assembly term.
It will not have the same freedom as the Scottish Parliament, but it will be able to apply to Westminster for the right to legislate in devolved fields.
In her speech to Assembly members in the Senedd debating chamber, the Queen said, “It is now for you to ensure that policies and legislation meet the needs and aspirations of the people of Wales more closely than ever before.”
The Queen could so easily have been opening the Senedd for a Government including Plaid, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. That coalition was only temporarily stymied when the Lib-Dems’ national executive was evenly split over the plan and a special party conference was called off two weeks ago.
Then grassroots members got the conference reinstated and the terms of a rainbow coalition were agreed by the party.
In the meantime, however, Mr Morgan had been formally re-elected as First Minister.
With the Conservatives having also backed the rainbow deal, the ball is now in Plaid’s court. On June 16 the party’s national executive is expected to support the rainbow package, with a larger Plaid national council meeting in July expected to do the same. It is understood that while a rainbow coalition was not on the agenda at the last national council meeting on May 26, members overwhelmingly backed it in their discussions.
Once Plaid formally backs a rainbow deal, the three opposition parties – who between them hold 33 of the 60 Assembly seats – could choose to remove the minority Labour administration in a vote of no confidence at any time.
The Plaid leader said last night, “It’s a bit early to reach any firm conclusions, but Rhodri Morgan’s minority government has not got off to a very good start.
“The first thing Carwyn Jones did as the new Education and Culture Minister was to say there would not be a new Welsh Language Act, despite the growing consensus that one is needed. This does not make me think that when Rhodri Morgan says he intends to reach out to other parties it is any more than rhetoric.
“The proof of the pudding, of course, will be in the eating, and we shall see what happens over the next few weeks.”
A senior Plaid official suggested to the Western Mail that the party’s immediate strategy would be to test Labour’s position on a series of issues that were discussed last month as part of a possible “stability pact” between Labour and Plaid.
Under the Assembly’s new standing orders, Plaid will have an hour-and-a-half every Wednesday to put forward proposals to the Government.
But unlike the old arrangements that operated before last month’s election, the Assembly will no longer be able to instruct the Government to pursue a particular policy – the only sanction available will be a motion of no confidence.
Mr Jones confirmed that Plaid would be using part of its debating time to test Labour’s willingness to change its position on a number of crucial issues.
He said, “We shall be proposing a moratorium on Labour’s hospital reconfiguration programme, which was such an important issue during the election. We shall also be proposing that nurses should receive their agreed pay rise all at once, like in Scotland, rather than staggered, as in England. We shall be assessing Labour’s response across a range of issues.
“My view is that Labour will not be able to demonstrate its ability to run a stable government. What Wales needs is new ideas, not just the same old business-as-usual, boring way of running the Assembly that we have had for the last eight years.
“I made it clear during the election campaign that we would not prop up a weak Labour Government on a week-by-week basis.
“But before there is any question of removing the minority Labour administration, we have to be sure that an alternative government would itself be able to provide stability.”
Asked whether he thought Mr Morgan would be removed from office before the summer recess, which begins in six weeks’ time, Mr Jones said, “I would put it at 50-50. We shall have to wait and see how things develop.”
The Plaid leader acknowledged there was a disadvantage in waiting until the autumn, by which time Budget preparations for the financial year 2008-09 would be well advanced.