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Posts Tagged ‘Welsh Assembly election 2011’

Uncertainty is the only certainty on this last day of election campaigning before voting gets under way tomorrow morning.

That uncertainty may be interesting for people like me and nerve-wracking for politicians, but it’s the civil service for whom it causes a real challenge.

They have to be ready to swing into action to deliver a government programme from Friday onwards. Trouble is they don’t know who’ll form that government.

So how have they been preparing themselves?

I’m told there’s been a ‘rigorous process’ by which every party’s manifesto has been combed through to see what each of them is promising.

Department-by-department, civil servants have examined and discussed in detail the implications of all the proposals, the likely costs, the legality or otherwise and other strictly practical questions.

The aim is to be armed with all the facts and figures so that the relevant officials are fully prepared for whichever party or parties the next set of Welsh ministers come from.

What the civil service here won’t do, I’m told, is to play the kind of  role played by the head of the UK civil service, Sir Gus O’Donnell after last year’s inconclusive Westminster election.

In the build-up to last May, Sir Gus had led civil servants in wargaming exercises, working out the implications of different scenarios and then played an active role in bringing the eventual coalition partners together in as binding a partnership as possible.

Officials here have taken the position that they won’t make any assumptions about  possible permutations – so no ‘wargaming’ of different coalition arrangements.

While they expect to play a pivotal role, they won’t play a political role and that distinction is crucial.

There’ll be no ‘second-guessing’, I’m told.  Rather, civil servants in Cathays Park see their role as ‘being in a position to enable the democratic process to be run through.’

We’ll get our final clue as to what possible scenarios they might be confronted with on May the 6th in our eve-of-poll poll which will be published later.

I should be able to bring you the headlines of it in our lunchtime bulletin at 1.55pm ITV1 Wales and I’ll update with a link to the details  when we have them.

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I’m raising the C-word on this evening’s Wales Tonight. After all we’re grown-ups.

Politicians from the four main parties don’t like you to use the c-word – of course I mean coalition – during an election campaign.

I can understand why: none of them know exactly how the maths will work out on May the fifth and none wants to commit to any deal before then.

And for some voters, the prospect of their party sharing government with another could put them off going to the polling booth altogether.

As I say, I can understand their reluctance to answer the question, so why am I and other journalists so eager to ask it repeatedly?

In the first instance it’s because coalitions have become such a big part of Welsh politics (and more recently UK politics).

In fact for seven out of the 12 years since the Assembly began, government has been shared by two parties.

So it’s more likely than it used to be, but the polls show Labour’s on course to win a majority so it shouldn’t matter this time, should it?

While that’s certainly true, what’s also true is that the electoral system for the Assembly, with 20 regional seats shared out amongst the parties, is designed to make majorities extremely difficult to achieve.

Add in the usual unknowable effects of a significant number of volatile and unpredictable constituencies and you have a scenario where, even with Labour doing very well, it still doesn’t reach that magic number of 31 seats.

In my interview with the Welsh Labour leader last week, Carwyn Jones  said that 30 seats would be very difficult to go it alone so that it’s still quite likely that Labour could have to look for a coalition partner.

Self-justification over, what are the possibilities then? I’ll tell you what I know.

Within Welsh Labour, opinion’s split.

There are many who have become relaxed about partnership with Plaid Cymru. The sky didn’t fall in and they feel the arrangement worked smoothly and efficiently.

They’re the ones who’d be delighted to see a One Wales II and what may surprise you is that not all of them are those in the Bay who sometimes get derided by other Labour members as ‘crypto-nationalists’ or ‘red-greeners’.

In fact more than one of those who’ve spoken to me about the desirability of One Wales II is outside that faction (such as it is) and, in one case, Westminster-based.

However it’s certainly true to say that a good number of Welsh Labour MPs and many others in the party at large favour turning to the Liberal Democrats first.

I’ve heard it said that doing so could mean a better deal with a Lib Dem group either weakened by a poor election result or eager to distance themselves from their party in Westminster.

Of course both of those scenarios raise problems – as one senior Labour person put it, ‘How could you do a deal with 3 or 4 people?’

Would the Lib Dems be interested? As Kirsty Williams said in her Face to Face interview, ‘I’m not ruling anything in nor ruling anything out.’

As for Plaid, most members I’ve spoken to about this privately express a preference for a second round of government with Labour.

The question is, what would Plaid gain from joining forces with Labour?

There is of course another possibility: a rainbow coalition of Plaid, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Potentially those three parties could have enough seats to outvote Labour.

Other commentators have previously noted that the conditions make a rainbow coalition less likely this time than it was back in 2007.

The three parties aren’t working regularly with each other as they were then and two of them are in government at Westminster, making decisions that are often unpopular here in Wales.

Furthermore there’s a good chance that the Conservatives could be the largest of the three after May 5th.

Nick Bourne said in his face to face interview that in that eventuality he would expect to be First Minister while, in his face to face interview, Ieuan Wyn Jones  said Plaid Cymru would never serve under a Conservative First Ministership.

There’s another factor though. Barring a major upset, Labour looks likely to make substantial gains on May 5th, to have ‘won’ the election whether or not it wins a majority.

One senior Plaid figure told me that that would make it very hard to see a non-Labour government in Cardiff Bay.

If that view is widely shared amongst Plaid’s leadership, it puts Labour very much in the driving seat.

But as senior Labour person put it to me, ‘It’s all about the votes’ and none of us can predict how they’ll be shared out.

There’s even the possibility of a Green or UKIP AM joining the other parties in Cardiff Bay.

I’ve had a go at explaining some of the basics of this for Wales Tonight at 6pm on ITV1 Wales.

And you may pick up some more clues in tonight’s Wales Decides: the Leaders’ Debate.

Jonathan Hill and an audience at Cardiff’s Coal Exchange put the four main party leaders on the spot.

Join them at 1035pm, ITV1 Wales.

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Thanks to those kind people at Age Cymru who’ve sent me these pictures of the question time event I was involved in on Monday.

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‘Make sure you tell them to remember the grey vote.’

That was the clear message I was given today by a group of women at Age Cymru’s election Question Time which I hosted earlier.  They’d had chance along with a large number of other older voters to quiz a panel made up of the four main political parties.

It’s fair to say they had plenty on their mind and left the politicians in no doubt about what they expect from them.

Age Cymru has also come up with six priorities that its members want dealt with in this election – its own mini-manifesto – which you can read  here.

And those members have put those priorities into words in this video:

UPDATE 2135 19/04/11  Paul Heaney at Politics Wales has his take on the event here with video of interviews with some of those who were attending.

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The Welsh Conservatives have launched their manifesto today, meaning that all four of the main parties in this election have now laid out their promises for us.

You can read the manifesto in full here.

It’s the smallest of all four manifestos, coming in at just 32 pages but as small books go it has to achieve a great deal.

Not only does it have to appeal to Conservative voters across Wales, many of whom are still sceptical about devolution, but it also has to complete the rebranding that’s gone on over the last ten years which is sometimes half-jokingly referred to as Welshification.

And it also has to appeal to other parties if a rainbow coalition with Plaid and the Liberal Democrats becomes a possibility.

Privately a party source told me that about 90% of the manifesto is true blue Conservative that no Tory anywhere in the UK could really disagree with.

It’s the other 10 per cent that’s much more interesting. This is where you find pledges like the commitment to ‘working towards 1.5 million Welsh speakers by 2015,’ quite a pledge from any party, let alone the Conservatives.

And when it comes to the nation-building ‘wish-list’ there’s a huge amount of reaching out to Plaid in the manifesto, for instance a commitment to fair funding for Wales and a statement that ‘the legal jurisdiction of Wales needs to be made more account and partly accountable to the National Assembly.’

A little book then, but one that could go a long way.

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Three down. Today it was Welsh Labour’s turn to publish its manifesto.  Called ‘Standing Up for Wales’ you can read the full manifesto here.

It’s a big document – coming in at 109 pages compared with Plaid’s 53 and the Liberal Democrats’ 66.

And Labour, particularly the manifesto’s author Andrew Davies, reckon that in this case size does matter.

We’ve been told repeatedly that the 100-odd pages contain 400 ideas, designed to head off the accusations that, after being in power in Cardiff Bay for 12 years, Welsh Labour has run out of steam and ideas.

It’s also aimed at balancing the overwhelming theme of Labour’s campaign so far which has at times seemed more about negative attacks on the actions of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Westminster than it has about positive ideas for Wales.

Despite the rhetoric, there is a large amount of common ground between Labour’s manifesto and the plans set out by both Plaid and the Liberal Democrats in the last couple of days.

When it comes to Plaid though, Labour says that although they may agree on some of the means, the ends are what divides them.

Andrew Davies said

We are for democracy and accountability, not nation-building and independence. We are Welsh, British and Labour and we do not support nation-building for Wales.

Deep within the manifesto, there’s an interesting message to be found, perhaps aimed at potential coalition partners, but a strong message anyway: expect a much more powerful First Minister if Labour is in government.

There’ll be a First Minister’s Delivery Unit and the FM will have a much bigger say in specific areas of policy.

Carwyn Jones (assuming he becomes FM) would be expected to co-ordinate the government’s approach to energy rather than leave the job to a minister.

Perhaps more signficantly, we’re told that he would ‘lead a Team Wales approach to the  economy and regeneration.’

In the manifesto itself (as far as I can make out from what I’ve read so far) economic development is the only section where the First Minister’s leadership is spelled out so clearly, every other chapter refers to what ‘Welsh Labour’ would do.

That could also contain a coded message to prospective coalition partners not to expect that job as an incentive as has been the case in the two previous arrangements.

 

 

 

 

 

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Welsh Labour press conference. Photo by Natasha Hirst

This marvellous photo (marvellous because of its quality not because my bonce is centre frame) is one of many taken by Natasha Hirst, a photographer who’s documenting Welsh Labour’s campaign. I was at one of the party’s press briefings at its Cardiff HQ, Transport House in Cardiff this morning. That’s BBC Wales’ Political Editor Betsan Powys sitting next to me. I’m glad you can’t see my terrible handwriting.

 

You can see all of Natasha’s pictures from today’s press conference and the rest of her campaign photography for Welsh Labour here. They’re worth looking at whichever party you support. But here’s another picture featuring the back of me which makes the newly-refurbished Transport House look like CSI Miami.

Photo by Natasha Hirst

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