Labour to go it alone in Wales “without any triumphalism”

Ed Jacobs reports from Wales on the decision by first minister Carwyn Jones to govern alone and not in coalition with Plaid Cymru or the Liberal Democrats.

As Welsh Assembly Members today confirmed Carwyn Jones as Wales’s first minister in the first sitting of the Senedd since last week’s elections, Labour’s leader has pledged there will be “no trace of any political tribalism” following Labour’s decision to govern as a single party, having taken exactly half the seats in the Assembly.

Speaking to Labour AMs, Jones explained:

“Over the weekend, there has been a period of reflection – not just for Welsh Labour but for all of the political parties in Wales.

“Various discussions have taken place in recent days both inside our own party and with others too. As a result of these discussions, I will seek to form a government later this week, consisting solely of Labour ministers.

“However, in doing this, I want to make something absolutely clear. We will do this without any triumphalism and with no trace of any political tribalism. The stakes for Wales are too high for any such self-indulgence.

“We will take the next step – to form a stable government for our people – with humility and total recognition of the responsibility now facing us. These are extremely tough times for our country of that, we are in no doubt.”

Arguing, however, for a new type of politics in Wales, he continued:

“We in Welsh Labour, do not pretend for one moment that we hold all the answers to the problems or the opportunities that we face.

“What the recent election demonstrated was that all the main political parties now represented in the Assembly, produced manifestos that were full of new ideas and fresh perspectives on how to create a better, fairer and more prosperous Wales in the future.

“Over the recent election campaign, one message that voters sent all political parties in Wales – loud and clear was that the old style of politics opposition for opposition sake, sits uncomfortably in our modern Welsh democracy.”

As Labour prepares to form an administration on its own, the fallout from a disastrous election for its former coalition partners, Plaid Cymru, continues. Whilst the party’s leader, Iuean Wyn Jones, has been re-elected to lead the party by his Assembly Members, the stark fact remains that last week’s election results saw the party lose four seats, down to 11 – its worst performance since the establishment of the Assembly in 1999.

It was a sign that the party had failed – unlike its sister party, the SNP – to capitalise on the opportunities devolution presented for them to grow and flourish.

In part it could be explained by the lack of any strong, charismatic nationalist leader along the lines of Alex Salmond. But having voted so recently for full law making powers for the Assembly, Plaid will now have a lot of work to do on how it defines itself in a country which has no further appetite for the foreseeable future for its ambitions for a more independent Wales. The question for Plaid is simple – what is the point of them? The answer, however, is not that simple.

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales, the party’s leader in Westminster, Elfyn Llwyd, suggested a spell in opposition could be just what the party needs to re-group, explaining:

“There are [benefits to not going into government]. Without the distraction of having to govern we’re in a position to look at everything and regroup in opposition.

“We need to look at the whole structure of the party all the way through from top to bottom, to look at the staffing structure, where we’re getting the message wrong, why we didn’t actually have a clear strategy, why we didn’t get the right message across, why we didn’t actually persuade people that they should be voting for Plaid Cymru.”

For the Conservatives, meanwhile, today will be a bittersweet moment, following an election which saw them become the official opposition having gained two seats, whilst simultaneously seeing their now former leader, Nick Bourne, losing his regional list seat due to the success the party had in the constituency vote. Whilst speculation mounts over who will succeed him, reports suggest that Bourne is doing all he can to prevent the party’s former health spokesman, Andrew R T Davies – so far the only candidate to officially declare that he will run for the leadership – from taking the post.

Speaking to the South Wales Echo, a party source is quoted as saying:

“Nick is still trying to control things. He will do what he can to stop [South Wales Central AM] Andrew RT Davies winning the leadership.

“Andrew may be strident, but he is a great motivator and has widespread support in the party. Nick doesn’t like him, however, and Andrew stepped down as shadow health minister after a row.”

Meanwhile, Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams has pledged to support Labour where it “proposes serious answers” to the problems faced by Wales. Her remarks follow an election which wasn’t as disastrous for the party as had been predicted, with the loss of just one seat, bringing the group in the Assembly down to five seats.

Given that the party in Wales therefore doesn’t appear to be quite as toxic as elsewhere across the country, especially compared with the dreadful performance of its Scottish counterparts, the party will be hoping Labour’s lack of an outright majority could prove an opportunity for it to gain influence over the government.

Indeed, if the two parties were to form the kind of progressive partnership that many within the Lib Dems and Labour nationally would have preferred following the general election, played right, it could prove an example of what could be achieved between the two parties, and no doubt make many Lib Dems in Westminster envious.

The watch word for the next Assembly will be delivery. Having addressed the issue of Assembly powers, Labour will now look to a five-year term to deliver an agenda based on public service reforms without creeping marketisation whilst working flat out to stand up to the Westminster government and the cuts it is imposing on Wales. We can also expect further debate over the future of the Barnett Formula which the Holtham Commission having concluded in 2009 that it is underfunding the country by £300 million a year.

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