reflections on the election (the Welsh one)

so it was a really interesting Welsh General Election for me this week, both in a personal and professional capacity. i won’t bore you with the professional details, but sufficed to say that by the time i left the office at the end of Friday i was shattered, both physically and mentally. personally it was also very interesting because for the first time in a long time i went into the voting booth not 100% sure how i was going to vote on any of my ballot papers. i was also able to bring a level of information to bear on my decisions (courtesy of professional life) that i had not previously had access too.

living in a safe Welsh Labour seat i had my expectations of what the campaign might look like round my area and in particular on my street and i think largely the campaign lived up to that.  where i live is not a marginal seat by any stretch of the imagination (the new AM was elected with over 6000 votes above his nearest rival and the long standing MP was re-elected last year with over 4000 votes) and in either of the last two campaigns i was hardly bombarded with leaflets, door knocking experiences, postings, posters, placards etc. in fact this time around i can count on one hand the numbers of leaflets i received through the door from the now new Welsh Labour AM. in fact i actually received more leaflets through the door from the Wales Green Party and sadly they did not achieve a regional list member.

i have already blogged on lazy politics and raised the question whether it is apathy that results in lazy politicians or vice versa (likely a bit of everything), and in fact that new Welsh Labour AM was widely received as an active candidate and competent, but i really do feel as if the effort was not made – across the board.

i received one Plaid Cymru leaflet over the course of the election (received in the final week of the campaign), 2 from the Lib Dems and one from the Tories. i was not “doorstepped” by any parties and only saw one candidate out and about around my immediate area. now i know that constituencies are big places and they have to be out and about all over the place, and whilst yes this is a plea for a more active AM for the next five years, it is also a question about how we can really stir up political activity in Wales and in my constituency.

would a different electoral system help matters? yes in short i think they would. i think i am leaning more towards a purer form of PR that was on offer this time round but taking into account the result of the AV referendum i would agree with those commentators who are saying that the cause of electoral reform is likely dead for the next few generations at least.

thinking about the election more widely i think we in Wales do need to radically think about the media market. in Wales the majority of people get their information from news outlets that are based in London and do not cover Wales to the extent that it should be covered. even excellent programmes such as the Today programme have focussed first on Scotland rather than Wales. the Western Mail i believe has done an excellent job in covering the election, profiling candidates and covering the issues, however it is not widely read and i understand its readership is going down and down.

i’m not going to talk about the outcomes, mainly because i was doing that with my professional hat on for all day yesterday, except to say that the loss of Helen Mary Jones, Nerys Evans and Nick Bourne are losses not only to their respective parties, but also to Welsh politics. i hope that Nerys will return in a job for her party that has become vacant in recent months and i certainly feel sure that this is not the last we have seen of Helen Mary Jones.

so … a reflection on the campaign from a very hyperlocal point of view … feedback – don’t take this constituency for granted mr new AM!

just having a think

so.

the national assembly for Wales will formally dissolve at midnight tonight (31 march 2011). great images that that conjures up of the entire senedd building melting away and fizzing whilst doing so and then reforming at some point in june terminator styley. this is the introduction to what could be one of Wales’ most important elections since devolution – lots of “big beasts” standing down, some really tight contests in a few parts of Wales and undoubtedly some heated shouting matches in local hustings before, inevitably a few of the AMs from the Third Assembly lose their seat – sad times (although depending on who it is, maybe not).

but as interesting as the election and the campaign will be over the coming weeks, given the electoral systems which we have in Wales the potentially really interesting bit would be any future coalition negotiations. i know that some may have read the latest polling results which could indicate that the Welsh labour party are set to sweep to a majority on May 5, largely at the expense of their previous coalition partners, plaid cymru. however seat predictions are notoriously difficult in any election due to the inaccuracy of the UNS. now there is no thing as a UNS its “just a bit of fun” as someone once said. one cannot accurately transpose polling results onto seats and hope for a true outcome at the end of it – so essentially we’ll have to wait and see. however if Welsh Labour find themselves in a position whereby they may need propping up (ie if they don’t get a comfortable or semi-workable majority of maybe 33 or 34) then they may find themselves round the table with plaid cymru again – given the rhetoric of recent weeks i think it somewhat unlikely that labour would cozy up the Welsh conservatives or the Welsh Liberal Democrats, however stranger things have happened.

so, for the sake of argument, let’s say that its Plaid and Welsh Labour hammering out a deal after polling day. sat round the table, old coffee cups, screwed up versions of agreements, someone on the phone to Adam Price to see if he can spare 10 minutes to write One Wales mk.II, various people tweeting and texting in the darker corners and some very tired people squaring up to each other and working out what the other wants. and its that last point that i’m particularly interested in. one of the striking things that was hammered home by Plaid Cymru at their conference was that that their leader gave up the chance to lead the Welsh Assembly Government in 2007 in order to have a referendum on further law-making powers / primary law-making powers / moving from part 3 to 4 of the GOWA 2006 (delete as appropriate). ok i can see that. he gets the economy brief, Plaid gets their referendum and Wales gets a DFM.

BUT – what happens if it happens again. what can a Welsh Labour party that (in our hypothetical) is within striking distance of government offer Plaid Cymru. what do Plaid want? let’s just recap:

  • welsh language legislation – done
  • welsh medium HE – done
  • welsh medium education strategy – done
  • electrification of rail throughout wales – UK government decision
  • tax raising / varying powers – UK government decision
  • referendum on independence in 5 years – never going to happen
  • no privatisation of Welsh NHS – labour will probably be running on this anyway
  • control over the funding for S4C – ?

my big question here is what do Plaid Cymru want, what can Labour give them and how will it all shake out? if as some commentators have remarked that following the “yes” vote in the referendum a real Welsh parliament has been created for the first time in over 500 years, what else is there left to fight over?

will it, as it has been remarked to me by friends, come down to the size of one’s brief *ahem*. brief here meaning government portfolio or department, not anything else. and then the other question is, will Plaid risk 5 years out of power (now they have had a taste for it) if there is nothing significant that can be offered to tempt them in?

i should note here that i have no answer to this question and is merely posed as just that – a question