With just days to go to the Welsh Assembly elections, what are the chances we are heading for a rainbow coalition?
Welsh Assembly elections are odd beasts. Labour has been the sole or major party in power in every government since the Assembly’s formation in 1999. Yet they’ve never enjoyed an overall majority. The Assembly’s semi-proportional system means each new election offers a tantalising range of post-election outcomes.
The next election, taking place on 5 May 2016, is no different. With recent changes to infrastructure planning in Wales, as well as tax raising powers on their way, the make-up of the next government could have big ramifications on the country’s direction. With the polls pointing to another hung assembly, how could this government look?
On paper, the most likely outcome would see Labour and Plaid Cymru rekindle the ‘One Wales’ pact of 2007-11. The most recent Welsh Political Barometer shows Labour continuing as Wales’ dominant party with 28 seats (albeit 16 per cent down on what they were polling at the same point in 2011). The nationalists are currently predicted to get 13 seats. So this partnership would certainly have the numbers. Ideologically, the parties share a lot of common ground.
Yet in recent weeks, there have been numerous examples of Labour ministers criticising their former Plaid colleagues, and there have been calls for Plaid to rule out a partnership. Part of the problem is there is now no ‘carrot’ for Plaid to prop up a Labour administration – as there was with a referendum on further devolution in 2007. Following the last coalition, Plaid lost its second place to the Conservatives, partly for being seen as too close to Labour.
One idea, put forward by Plaid, is a First Minister sharing arrangement – Plaid for the first two and a half years and Labour the latter. But it’s hard to see Labour agreeing to such a deal considering they will have a significantly greater electoral mandate.
So if a red/green coalition is unlikely, people will undoubtedly look to the mythical ‘rainbow coalition’. In fairness, Wales did almost make this work, in 2007, between Plaid, the Conservatives and Lib Dems – only for the Lib Dems to withdraw at the last moment. But nine years is a long time. Over this period, Plaid Cymru and the Tories have drifted even further apart. Plaid have consistently criticised the Westminster government’s welfare reforms, so there is bad blood between the parties in Wales. The gulf between the two on tax is also basically unbridgeable. Besides, with the Lib Dem’s woes predicted to continue in Wales, this grouping would miss a majority.
One unknown is UKIP. The party looks set to burst into the Senedd, winning somewhere between five and eight seats. A Plaid, Conservative, UKIP coalition might, just, have enough numbers. However, Plaid has already ruled out working with UKIP. A right-leaning Con/UKIP coalition falls far short. Could there be the shock prospect of a Labour/UKIP pact? They probably have too little common ground for this to work – particularly with the EU referendum around the corner.
So, the most likely outcome seems to be the the status quo, with Labour forming an (even more) minority coalition. But even this raises interesting questions. Ten incumbent AMs are standing down. That’s a third of the party and includes cabinet stalwarts like Edwina Hart and Huw Lewis and veterans of 1999 such as Dame Rosemary Butler and Gwenda Thomas. It will be interesting to see how a minority administration includes – and controls – such a large influx of new AMs.
Kai Pritchard is an Account Manager at Camargue.