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The Nightmare at Number 31

Betsan Powys | 12:29 UK time, Monday, 4 April 2011

And they're off. There's a real sense that today's the day the election got underway in earnest.

The cross party unity of the referendum campaign gave way to shadow boxing while the Assembly was still sitting. Now, the gloves are off.

Both party strategists and pundits are poring over maps of Wales trying to divine how a few thousand votes here and a few thousand there might affect the final outcome after May 5th.

The Labour leader Carwyn Jones made his contribution to that at this morning's press conference - in the new look snazzy Transport House in Cardiff - with some very interesting and pretty optimistic comments about their take on the outcome.

He believes that a "comfortable working majority" is possible for his party - that's the optimistic bit - but here's the interesting bit.

"If we have 31 AMs we will try to form a government," he said. "If we get a majority of one, a majority of two, a majority of three then that's government territory."

Note that word "try". If they are to get that majority, then it's more likely that it will be around the 31 seat mark - which could be the nightmare result for virtually everybody. Here's why.

If Labour wake up on May 6th with 31 seats, then based on current thinking within the party, all talk of coalitions will be off the table.

Mr Jones has known for some time that in those circumstances, his party will expect him to govern alone. Based on little other than the look on his face when he talks about the number 31, I think it's fair to say that it doesn't fill him personally with wild enthusiasm.

But there are siren voices within the party completely opposed to a deal with Plaid, some even if he finds himself in a minority. Any attempted deal after Labour had won a majority would spark virtual civil war within the party.

But why consider a coalition at all in those circumstances? Because day to day, and over a five year term, governing with 31 seats is a tough ask, a potential nightmare, even. With an organised opposition, it means ministers are stuck in Cardiff Bay, and a single snubbed, disgruntled or even poorly Labour backbencher would leave key votes on a knife edge. We've been there before.

This time, the opposition parties would be highly unlikely to offer a Presiding Officer and deputy from within their ranks just in order to boost Labour's majority to a more workable level.

There's a danger that the party could get bogged down in horse trading to get votes through the Senedd rather than focusing on what Mr Jones has said would be his overriding priority in government - public service delivery and reform.

But what of an alternative government? Barring defections from Labour, then a resurrected rainbow of Plaid, Tories and Liberals could only muster 29 seats between them. Does a minority rainbow sounds like a stable government to you? Me neither. Should UKIP or the Greens win a list seat this time round then that would add yet another factor into the mix.

Even if Carwyn Jones could persuade his party that 31 isn't actually a "workable" majority, it's far from clear whether he'd find Plaid Cymru willing coalition partners in order to deliver stable government in those circumstances. The questions "why" and "what's in it for us" will echo in the corridors of Plaid HQ as much as among the party's membership.

As for the Lib Dems, if they were "unpalatable" or was it "inedible" for Labour in 2007 (and no one was ever quite sure which was which), then the coalition deal in Westminster will surely mean they're even further off the menu now in 2011.

All of which leaves us where? Well, the nightmare at number 31 for Carwyn Jones is that he spends the next five years being forced to nurse that miniscule majority. A rainbow is off the agenda so there's no point in a confidence vote for the opposition parties, who would be more likely to alternate between guerilla tactics and taking goodies where they can get them.

The days of the massive One Wales majority will seem like a distant memory. Labour may be dreaming of sitting at the top table alone after May's election - but with 31 seats, might they find their fare, ooh, I don't know - a pretty unpalatable or even inedible prospect?


  • Comment number 1.

    As the Assembly has 60 members and the Presiding Officer cannot vote (59), then surely if a party got 30 AM's (as Labour did in 2003) they can govern quite comfortably for a full four year term (anything more than 30 and a majority soon builds up)?

  • Comment number 2.

    Is Carwyn as lazy as he appears to be? Personally I would have preferred Labour to have tried to govern as a minority in 2007. Anything was better than a "One Wales" agreement which was Plaideologically driven. Are we now going to have another "One Wales" because Carwyn can't be bothered to struggle?

    The next Assembly has to concentrate on Making policies already in existence actually WORK. There has to be accountability, particularly in Education.

    I am close to saying that IWJ is on his way out of Ynys Mon. Which could mean that we have a leaderless Plaid (an unknown quantity) after the elections.

  • Comment number 3.

    The D'hont method makes prediction difficult but there could be 5% point losses in votes without a change to seat numbers for some parties and similar gains with no additional seat numbers for others.
    I fancy;
    Lab 31
    PC 10
    LD 4

  • Comment number 4.

    "As the Assembly has 60 members and the Presiding Officer cannot vote (59), then surely if a party got 30 AM's (as Labour did in 2003) they can govern quite comfortably for a full four year term (anything more than 30 and a majority soon builds up)?"

    Unless the opposition parties refuse to accept a Presiding Officer from any party bar Labour of course....

  • Comment number 5.

    Remember that the Deputy Presiding Officer cannot vote either and the Standing Orders say that one of either the PO or the DPO must come from a governing party. So if Labour get 30 or 31 they will lose a vote to one of those posts to balance the opposition loss. In other words there will be no change.

  • Comment number 6.

    Peter - can the opposition force both PO and DPO be from ruling party? Must they accept nomination ?

  • Comment number 7.

    No mention of another vanity project from Peter Hain toward his retirement? Naturally, no suggestion that this Labour MP has a different focus these days while still taking the taxpayer funded salary and expenses?

  • Comment number 8.

    This has all the hallmarks of Anglesey writ large, if the eventual WAG is ego driven rather than workable policy driven.

  • Comment number 9.

    5. At 14:01pm on 4th Apr 2011, Peter Black

    So how is it, that at the moment, neither the PO or the DPO are from the opposition Parties?

  • Comment number 10.

    I have little time for Alex Salmond of the SNP. He is even more disingenuous than Carwyn. Having said that at least Salmond has the courage to adhere to his own policies rather than be driven by a minority party as happens in Wales.

    Surely Carwyn should be saying "if Labour are the largest party following the election then Labour will go it alone".

    In Wales we have seen the disasters of a Labour/Plaid coalition and we are witnessing the disaster of a Con/Dem coalition in the UK Government.

    Carwyn it seems is only interested in having a comfortable time

  • Comment number 11.

    I dont know know about the "nightmare" at 31,as my "nightmare" for past years has been seeing Plaid Cymru sitting in the mickey mouse "government" down the bay. During that time in "government" with very OLD labour we have seen the economic and social well being of wales going down the tube,even though there has been unprecedented flows of public money from our "friends",i.e the ENGLISH which has been spent on pet project of the NATS and fellow treavellers in the nationalist wing of OLD labour. Our own Helen Mary Jones was in "rage" about P.M.Brown and more funding,but not a word of gratitude for the largesse we are already getting. Has she spoken to her friends in SNP and told them that any increased money WE get will be from Scots as they as absolute winners in getting handouts.Finally it comes as no surprise that Prince Carwyn wants to "concentrate of public service and delivery" in next term as Jeff Jones recently commented regarding education "the last 12 years have been completely wasted"he's absolutely right.Whoever is eventually voted in the prospects for ordinary english speaking people is not good as they are to be increasingly consigned to the "margins" of society,as the Nation Building exercise will continue in full flow.

  • Comment number 12.

    Are we, the people, finally now ALL clear that ALL devolved governments are full of people taking their salary and expenses with less accountability to the people?

    Another commission or another strategy meeting over strategy over-seen by another department responsible for strategy responsible for popular strategy that may involve those with an opposite strategy depending on the department the politician is up to their necks with strategy?

    I mean, why would any elected politician in a devolved government care? It's tricky for the electorate to find what their representatives actually do, or earn and their expenses and their affiliations on their own official devolved government websites?

    There's nothing easier than confusing a devolved politician by strategists employed by strategic PR that makes so much money from all forms of devolution - they should be listed on the Stock Exchange? Well, as Stock Exchanges around the world, are increasingly being bought out and amalgamated - your guess on democracy, and it's representatives' accountability in Britain, is as good as mine? Ooops, did I mention a mine?

    Yes, I could be daft, cynical or disgusted with what's going on behind the scenes? Never mind, we are all insects, me too, and have our place. That's life?

  • Comment number 13.

    I can't get excited at the thought of five more years of Labour - in fact, it's depressing. I think of it as a party bankrupt of ideas, and principles and lacking people of ability.

    What a combination for Wales! The ConDems in charge in London busy slashing the public sector on which Wales depends heavily, and Labour in Cardiff, the party that nearly bankrupted the UK in the first place, and with a poor record of devolved government in Wales. Hobson's choice.

    I'll be voting for a party which puts Wales and its people first, something that Labour never did.

  • Comment number 14.

    This is Cameron's priority:

    More RAF Tornados bound for Libya costing £70,000 an hour.

    How about electrifying the railway to Swansea, instead of spending the money on bombing people?

    As for Labour, they had eleven years, and did nothing for Wales. We're in a worse state now than in 1997.

  • Comment number 15.

    On past performance, which party is more likely to win a list seat - the Greens or UKIP?

    PS That was a very fetching outfit you were wearing today

  • Comment number 16.

    13. At 21:18pm on 4th Apr 2011, Bryn_Teilo wrote:

    I'll be voting for a party which puts Wales and its people first, something that Labour never did.


    In your critique you failed to mention the great damage Plaid has helped inflict in Wales over the past 4 years.

    So that leaves you voting for UKIP at the Assembly Elections. I am not sure that I will be joining you - but you have convinced me not to vote for Plaid - so my choice is narrowing

  • Comment number 17.


    I shall be voting for Plaid, but I'm no apologist for it, nor do I agree with all its policies and actions. No party is perfect, but it is the only one that can claim to put the interests of the people of Wales first.

    You had/have no intention of voting for Plaid, if your past comments are anything to go by. Your use of emotive terms such as 'racist nationalists' and 'cronies' sums up your attitude.

    I believe that but for the existence of Plaid, Wales would be in a worse mess than it is. Same goes for the SNP in Scotland. There would be no devolution but for those parties, and Wales would be totally at the mercy of Cameron and Clegg's policies of slash and burn.

    In the final analysis the unionist parties don't give a fig because their main focus is gaining power at Westminster, which means their true constituency is not here. Their record as far as Wales is concerned has been appalling, and it continues to this very day, and worse is in store for us.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think all politicians of all parties should be changed at every election.
    This would prevent it becoming a cosy place for career politicians.
    Perhaps then we would have people of higher calibre who would be prepared to take a career break to use their skills for the benefit of the country.
    There is too much of people getting seats just because they follow particular parties or are just yes men or people owed a favour by different groups. with nil abilities.
    Well, it's just a thought

  • Comment number 19.


    Well said.

    If this forum, or indeed the YouGov polls are anything to go by, the Welsh electorate seem to have very short memories.

    If Plaid had not entered office in 2007, Labour's hospital closure plan would have gone ahead, and all the new hospital buildings wouldn't be here - people would have to travel much further for their health services.

    If Plaid had not entered office, there would be no National Science Academy, no Foundation Wales and no STEM Cymru: all of these institutions absolutely vital for our economic recovery, promoting the takeup and assisting existing research students of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects.

    We wouldn't have had the referendum, so we would be stuck with Cam/Clegg rule, when Wales voted overwhelmingly against them. The issue of underfunding would still be an exclusively nationalist gripe, rather than a mainstream cross-party gripe.

    It's actually shocking that Labour are so far ahead in the polls here. Has anyone heard of any policies from them? All I've heard is "send a message to cameron and clegg", "we'll stand up for Wales", and promises to *keep* existing policies such as free prescriptions, free breakfasts and tuition fees.

    From all three other parties, there are policies being put on the table: some good, some bad, but at least they are doing SOMETHING!

    Why people are buying Labour's rhetoric, I will never know.

  • Comment number 20.

    What seats are predicted to go where for LAbour to get 31 seats please peoples? From what I can find out, the make up from the 2007 election was: 26 LAbour; 15 Plaid; Cons 12; LD 6; Ind 1 (= 60 total). Which 5 seats are predicted to turn red for Labour to get a majority? Cheers...

  • Comment number 21.

    #18 wrote:

    '...politicians of all parties should be changed at every election...'

    For once I tend to agree with you. It sounds like a good idea, but in reality is impracticable. Politicians are a necessary evil, but the prospects of a short-lived career would not attract people of calibre. Those with principle, statesmen and women, are in short supply in the Commons. I must say that I'm impressed with Caroline Lucas, the Green Party's first MP. Proportional representation is desperately needed to attract more people of her ability.

    I feel that politics in the UK has changed for the worse during my lifetime. The three unionist parties are so similar in their policies. It's difficult to tell the difference between politicians when they appear in the media - Tory, Labour or LibDem. They all look and sound the same, and will promise just about anything to get into power. It's not surprising that they are held in such low esteem.

    I remember party conferences where real debate took place, now they're all the same, plastic presentation and spin is everything. I find it sickening. Something needs to be done to reverse the process.

    Constitutional and electoral reform is at the heart of the problem, to end the complacent shuffle between Tory and Labour every few years, when they are thrown out because they've made a real hash of things, as they always do. They only have to sit on their backsides until they are returned to power, followed by a comfortable retirement in the unelected House of Lords. No wonder the UK is a shambles.

    Regrettably the UK is not going to get that kind of reform. It would be the case of turkeys voting for Christmas. The AV referendum illustrates the problem all too well. They wouldn't tolerate a vote on true proportionality like STV.

    Wales and Scotland have a better chance should they achieve self-determination, being able to start with a clean constitutional sheet, and be rid of the dead hand, sleaze, and complacency of Westminster for ever.


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