By Rhys Rhymni
Labour has finally formed a coalition administration for the Welsh Assembly (Cynulliad Cenedaethol Cymru). Unfortunately, this coalition administration is with the sole Lib Dem Assembly member elected rather than Plaid Cymru.
Plaid had gained one seat in the election and was the second largest party behind Labour, which lost one seat and so just missed being able to form a single party administration. For voters, this was the first chance to punish the Lib Dems in Assembly elections since the full effects were known of their damaging Westminster coalition with the Tories in the last parliament. In a record turnout Welsh assembly election the Lib Dems lost 4 of their 5 seats.
Plaid themselves had foolishly blocked with Tories and UKIP members in the Assembly to force a stalemate over the choice of First Minister between Carwyn Jones of Labour and Leanne Wood of Plaid. But following that the two parties, Labour and Plaid issued the following joint statement, “We are pleased to confirm that the Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru groups have today contacted the presiding officer in order to recall the assembly tomorrow, and proceed with the nomination procedure for first minister…….
This will allow the successful nomination of Carwyn Jones as first minister, and the establishment of a Labour minority administration. This follows constructive and positive talks about the parties’ shared priorities for the coming assembly, and future working arrangements.
The first minister will set out tomorrow the next government’s intentions for the first 100 days, including a commitment to prioritise those areas that enjoy support from across most of the assembly.”
These 2 parties, represent the progressive currents in Welsh politics and registered a clear combined majority of votes overall, then announced common policy objectives which could defend Wales against austerity and begin to build a foundation for economic recovery. This included, free child care, increased apprenticeships, a National Infrastructure Commission, a Welsh Development Bank and a New Treatment Fund.
Given these positive developments, the subsequent decision to include Lib Dem Kirsty Williams as Cabinet member with responsibility for Education is an error. Labour’s record on education in Wales is far better than the Lib Dems or Tories at Westminster. Students from Wales are still eligible for school uniform grants, Educational Maintenance Allowance and further education grants. In England Lib Dem support was essential for Cameron’s assault on education in general and on Welsh language provision.
The Corbyn/McDonnell leadership of Labour has shown that anti-austerity policies are popular. Labour’s vote in England rose, while in Wales it fell. Voters in Wales and elsewhere want solutions to the crisis not more of the same. The Lib Dems do not even claim to be an anti-austerity party and breathing life into them only hampers Corbyn’s gains against a faltering and divided Tory party. Labour in Wales needs to deliver on anti-austerity policies, or risk a further decline in its vote.