Senior Tory raises prospect of a deal with Welsh nationalists

After weeks of accusations that Ed Miliband is in Alex Salmond’s pocket, a senior Conservative is promoting a deal with a party that is actively seeking the break-up of the UK

 

A Conservative cabinet minister has raised the prospect of doing a deal with the Welsh nationalists, Plaid Cymru, following next year’s elections to the Assembly.

Speaking to Institute of Welsh Politics annual lecture last night, the secretary of state for Wales, Stephen Crabb, launched a scathing attack on Welsh Labour.

Declaring that Labour in Wales have become ‘complacent’ after 16 years of continued presence in government, he said to those assembled:

“It starts to believe it has a divine right to govern. It begins to dismiss proper scrutiny and challenge as an irritation. And it is slow to spot the slow erosion of standards in the public services under its stewardship.

“In short, there is a presumption of power. That cannot be right in any healthy democracy.

“And it cannot be good for our nation of Wales… I want to see an end to Wales being the last bastion of continuous one-party rule in the UK.”

Significantly, Crabb raised the prospect of a Conservative-Lib Dem-Plaid Cymru deal following the elections to the Assembly next year.

Looking back at the speculation in 2011 that such a rainbow coalition could have been possible then, the secretary of state concluded:

“[In] hindsight, I believe that such a coalition would have been in the best interests of Wales, creating a more diverse and plural approach to policy making and encouraging wider democratic debate.

“This may seem an ambitious prospect. Or just plain fantasy. The divergent views between the three parties are obvious.”

He continued:

“But I believe there is also a great deal of common ground: a progressive and proactive approach to devolving further powers to the Assembly, a shared ambition for a fair funding settlement for Wales, an outlook which takes in all four corners of Wales, not just Cardiff, Swansea and the Valleys and a mutual aim for more accountable government in Cardiff.

“The three pro-devolution parties in Wales: Welsh Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, and Plaid Cymru, could – possibly could – provide a fresh, effective alternative to the monopolistic hold on the levers of government in Wales by the Labour party.”

Unsurprisingly, Welsh Labour have responded with anger at the suggestion, declaring that what would be unhealthy for Wales ‘would be a Tory, Plaid and Lib Dem government slashing education funding by up to 20 per cent, scrapping free prescriptions and bringing back the failed grammar school system.’

On one level much of this remains very local politics in responses to the particular circumstances surrounding the Assembly in Cardiff Bay.

But it does raise a much wider question that Labour should now seize. After weeks of Ed Miliband being taunted by David Cameron about being in Alex Salmond’s pocket, here now, for the first time, a senior UK politician is talking up the prospects of doing a deal with a party in Wales actively seeking the break-up of the UK.

And it should not be forgotten that throughout the 2007-2011 Scottish Parliament the Conservatives were more than happy to do deals with what was then a minority SNP Government.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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