On March 18 the denizens of Sleepy Hollow otherwise known as the Wales Assembly Senedd put away their books and pencils and went out into the wild wood ready to do battle (handbags at 50 paces) yards, in the May 5 Assembly election.
This has produced a stirring in the undergrowth of the Wales media and a sharpening of quill pens in anticipation of a battle royal between the
opposing forces competing for the electorate’s votes and (hopefully) a dramatic change in the Senedd chamber. (Even if) History tells us this is most unlikely.
Further more signs of a more viral and decisive attitude to its business than has been seen since the Assembly’s formation in 1999 are not good.
Four elections since May 1999 have produced either Labour leading on its own, in coalition with the Lib Dems or deals with either opposition parties for giving them an input into the annual Finance Bill. The cut and thrust of a ruling party and an effective opposition that gives steel to this kind of politics is still rare.
Instead of hard fought debate and decisions taken, Its more like petty squabbles and decisions delayed. Animosities continually surface and, although there have been cooperation at times, when the parties should come together for the good of all, divisions are much more likely..
An example of this came on the Assembly’s last day when the Public Health Bill, containing bans on e-cigarettes, the licensing of tattooing shops and adequate access to public toilets was up for its last vote..
Five years of discussions between politicians and health staffs produced a Bill aimed at improving and protecting health before it was introduced in June 2015 in a deal with Plaid ensuring the Bill’s passing.
At this last hurdle Labour’s Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews described a previous deal with Plaid Cymru as a “cheap date”. This angered Plaid so much at this withdrew their support and the Bill was lost.
Pretty silly for grown ups but unhelpful when the most likely outcome of the Assembly elections is a hung parliament and very likely the need for Labour and Plaid to be it. (depending on how low the Lib Dems sink.)
The nonsense has to stop. Accommodation must be sought in order to see through measures that will truly deliver a Peoples Parliament with powers able to build a prosperous nation for all.
Unless there is a common purpose found, the road to real power and democracy in Wales will remain unresolved and the sound of feet being dragged to polling booths will lessen. The turn out in Assembly elections was at its highest in 2011. 46.3 per cent. About 70 per cent at general elections.
The way to a Wales Parliament also limps along. After three referendums, four Wales Labour governments (one with the Lib Dems one with Plaid,), four Welsh Secretaries and four proposed Acts of Wales proclaimed we have at the 2014 Act giving Assembly limited power to propose bills in 20 fields of policy. Kind of.
The Wales Act 2015 proposed increased powers but leaving Westminster with a shelf full of vetoing cards. So the negotiations on the plans have been “paused” by new Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns.
“Pauses” have outnumbered “actions” and though the media will try in the run up to the May 5 Assembly elections to bring excitement into our drab lives by painting a picture of a close race. It will be difficult.
Facts and factors make it most unlikely and On May 6 Wales’ political scene will be much the same.
Why? Well our electoral system won’t produce change unless there is seismic change in the Welsh peoples voting patterns or our political parties “Get it” about what the 40 past the post and 20 PR based AM seats will be shared.
The thirty constituency seats won by Labour, 75 per cent, is likely to be the most it can win overall. This is because in the 20 Added Members (PR) Regional list voting) the number of seats won in the constituencies is taken into account in the calculations. This makes it difficult for Labour to win an overall majority but it is almost certain there will be an anti-Tory majority. Even if UKIP do well.
Footnote. In August Jeremy Corbyn took North Wales by storm with huge audiences at meetings in Llandudno, Rhyl and on Deeside breathing new life into Labour politics but in an election campaign yet to catch fire he doesn’t seem to have been invited back. Weird that.