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31 May 2007

Wales - Labour rule under threat

Horse-trading shows the need for a new workers' party

AFTER A series of failed attempts to cobble together coalitions and pacts, Labour's Welsh leader, Rhodri Morgan, was elected First Minister and will form a Labour government but the other three parties are preparing to remove it.

Dave Reid, Socialist Party Wales

After the 3 May election Labour, with 26 seats (out of 60), is the largest party. But having suffered its lowest vote since 1918 it was left far short of a majority.

Ordinary people in Wales looked on as the parties attempted and rejected a bewildering series of agreements. Morgan attempted first to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, but this was rejected under the influence of Lib Dem council leaders who have been blaming the Labour Assembly government for the cutbacks they had been carrying out. The council elections are next year.

Then Morgan attempted to reach a pact with Plaid Cymru offering a referendum on legislative parliamentary powers for the Assembly but Plaid's leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, pulled out of negotiations to attempt to form a coalition government with the Tories and Lib Dems, dubbed the "rainbow coalition", with himself as First Minister.

A number of Plaid Assembly Members (AMs) were unhappy at a coalition with the Tories under-standing that this would completely undermine Plaid in the South where the Tories are still hated and they were preparing to fight the coalition at the Plaid national council last weekend.

As it turned out, it was the Liberal Democrats again who scuppered the coalition because of the Tories.

So Rhodri Morgan, who had been sunk, suddenly bobbed to the surface again and, with no other options available, was elected unopposed as First Minister. Even then, the intrigues were not over because belatedly the Liberal Democrats reversed their executive's decision and agreed to enter a rainbow coalition if it became available again.

All of this horse-trading was a million miles from the reality of ordinary working-class people in Wales. The announcement of hundreds of job losses in Llanwern and Ebbw Vale went unnoticed by the politicians as they scrambled for their jobs in Cardiff Bay. Working people noticed that hospital cuts and school closures figured very low down the list of priorities for the party leaders as they traded cabinet places.

The result for now is an unsteady Labour government stumbling on and relying on support from Plaid or the Liberal Democrats to push through measures. With the council elections less than a year away they will find it difficult to push through unpopular hospital and education cutbacks which not even the Tories will back. But on the basis of reduced funding from Gordon Brown's Labour government in Westminster the Assembly govern-ment will have even less resources than the previous one.

Morgan's likely strategy is to try and hold on until next May and then go into coalition with the Liberal Democrats after the council elections when he hopes to force through NHS and other cutbacks. But there is a lot of water to go under the Cardiff Bay barrage before next May. Already the Plaid and Liberal leaderships are preparing to replace the Labour administration.

But even a rainbow coalition would not be certain to replace Labour if the government fell. Plaid left activists in the South are trying to prevent a coalition with the Tories. If Plaid votes to go into a rainbow coalition, its left might not support it.

Ieuan Wyn Jones' blatant challenge for power and his support for nuclear power have undermined Plaid's claim to be a radical alternative to Labour. It is this image, rather than support for independence, that is the basis of Plaid's support in South Wales.

The lines of a future split in Plaid were exposed in the course of these events with four AMs from the South breaking ranks and campaigning against the rainbow coalition.

All of the main parties, except the Tories, have been damaged by events. Labour cannot take for granted any seat in Wales anymore. Plaid did not gain significantly in the election despite Labour's unpopularity. Its radical tag has been damaged and it is divided. The Liberal Democrats are a shambles and failed to make any gains from Labour. Even the Tories, who made some gains, have not recovered much from 1997.

With the four establishment parties discredited, Socialist Party Wales, the only party campaigning on the streets after the election, has received a great response to the idea of a new workers' party.

The success of the People's Voice, a left split-off from Labour in Blaenau Gwent, has shown what is possible for a workers' party. Overturning Labour's safest seat in Britain they have won three successive elections, this time gaining 54% of the vote.

The need for a workers' party will be further emphasised by a worsening of public services. A report issued by the influential Institute for Welsh Affairs warned of a significant drop in public spending in Wales in real terms. It called for "greater efficiency savings, greater use of private finance for capital spending and the management of public expectations" to deal with this spending cut. The problem for them is which capitalist party can achieve that. The problem for working class people is how to find a party that can fight it.

A fuller analysis of the Assembly elections and government negotiations can be found on the Socialist Party Wales website at