It’s a war of words that gets to the heart of the way the two parties which form the One Wales coalition government distinguish themselves after four years of working together.
I’m told there’s real anger and very red faces amongst Labour leaders in Cardiff Bay and some backbench AMs in Cardiff Bay following Peter Hain’s latest intervention.
It started when the Shadow Welsh Secretary responded to comments made by the Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, about the future of the Wales Office. The Plaid Cymru leader said there should be ‘a mature debate’ about it.
Mr Hain issued a statement saying,
Ieuan Wyn Jones wants a discussion that goes wider than the future of the Wales Office.
I think we need to have a mature debate about the future role of the Welsh Deputy First Minister.
Can you really justify having a Deputy First Minister in an Assembly Cabinet of only nine?
It is difficult, I think, in the long-term to justify having a Deputy First Minister in the Welsh Assembly Government as ineffective as Ieuan Wyn Jones.”
I put those remarks to the Deputy First Minister who brushed them aside saying
Well I don’t think I want to respond to any personal comments like that. I think it is totally inappropriate for me to do so.
But it was the bald statement that the First Minister and leader of Welsh Labour, Carwyn Jones,made immediately afterwards that was most interesting. He said,
I don’t have any ineffective ministers in my Government.
You can’t get much clearer a response than that. ‘A very public slapdown’ to Peter Hain’ as the Conservative leader Nick Bourne put it later.
But there was more. Carwyn Jones asserted his authority saying,
I am the leader of the Welsh Labour party. It’s my role to speak on behalf of the party.
And it didn’t end there. A Labour party source pointedly told me that Ed Miliband is the UK party leader and Carwyn Jones speaks on matters devolved to Wales before adding,
The future of the Wales office is not a devolved matter.
Some Plaid sources and other commentators have called this a power struggle within Welsh Labour and in one sense it is.
But it’s not a struggle for the top job; rather it’s a fight over the way Labour and Plaid emphasise the difference between themselves ahead of May’s Assembly election.
There are those within Labour who think that, while the One Wales coalition was a necessity, that the relationship between the two parties in Cardiff Bay has become too cosy.
Speaking at their joint press briefing today, Carwyn Jones and Ieuan Wyn Jones both emphasised that they want an orderly separation before May 5th and to avoid personal attacks.
As one Labour backbencher put it to me today, interventions like this don’t help.
It’s connected to another division within Labour that I mentioned in an earlier post at the time of the party’s Llandudno conference and that’s what is considered to be the minimum number of AMs Labour needs after May to avoid going into coalition again.
There’s a strong view amongst some Welsh Labour members that the party should certainly go it alone if it wins 31 seats, but should seriously consider forming a minority government with 30, 29 or even 28 seats.
In my earlier post, I quoted one party figure as saying
Nobody said government should be easy.
But around the Bay I’ve heard said repeatedly – and I’ve heard it again today – that 31 is too few to form a stable majority government.
A backbencher told me today they remembered with horror the last time Labour governed alone with 30 AMs:
You can’t be ill, ministers can’t go on visits, there’s no slack.
A minister told me that a coalition with 31 seats would be ‘a hard sell’ to the party but there’s no doubt there’s a significant number within Labour who’d prefer a large majority coalition, One Wales II in other words.
But there’s just as significant a number who want that to be the very last resort.
There’s a clear difference here and it’s not – in public at least – between the two parties.
As one Plaid source said to me, ‘it’s ironic: everyone was thinking there’d be increasing strains within the coalition. It seems the strains are appearing elsewhere.’
UPDATE 16:55 Carwyn Jones and Peter Hain have now issued a joint statement setting out what they CAN agree on. Here it is:
The blunt truth is that although there are four parties in Welsh politics, there are only two futures for Wales. A country that is fair and equal with Labour, or a Wales that faces death by a thousand Conservative and Lib Dem cuts.
People in Wales understand that this is the real choice in this election. They want to hear about our plans to provide jobs for young people, to protect policing in Wales from Tory cuts and to improve the NHS. This is what we are focusing on and will continue to focus on until May 5th.
We are committed to protection of Welsh representation in both Government and Parliament at Westminster. Especially at a time when Wales is under greater attack than ever before this is vital.