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Betsan Powys | 17:21 UK time, Monday, 17 November 2008

Two years ago, almost to the day, Peter Hain, then Welsh Secretary, spoke to the Western Mail about Welsh Labour and Proportional Representation in local government. He used the 'never' word.

"The policy of Welsh Labour, adopted unanimously at our special conference on Saturday, is emphatic. Welsh Labour will not consider and would never accept any move towards PR in local government in Wales."

The rub comes in the next line of the story:

'Both Mr Hain and First Minister Rhodri Morgan have emphatically rejected PR in local government, thus effectively ruling out any chance of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats if Labour fails to win an overall majority next May'.

Two years on the First Minister returns to the 'never' word. But in his contribution to the IWA's Politics in 21st Century Wales his use of the same word tells an entirely different story:

"Looking ahead ... then this is an issue which I do not believe that the Labour Party in Wales can responsibly consign to Never Never Land".

In fact he's in favour of 'Permissive PR' where local councils could hold a referendum on bringing in PR if enough local people were keen on change. How many is 'enough'? How would the referendum be triggered? Would it be legal? When I know, I'll tell you.

Why is he in favour?

Because the First Minister is certain Labour would do better in Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Ynys Mon and Gwynedd under PR and because "without winning in the west, Labour cannot win Wales". Not exactly Grav's 'West is best' but a pretty clear 'Don't retreat to the rest'.

And because not working out a different position on PR will tie the hands of a future Labour leader who wants to pick up the phone to a future Lib Dem leader - perhaps Kirsty Williams who some twenty pages later in the same book argues for "no truce without PR".

When Peter Black attempted to gain the powers to introduce PR in local government elections in Wales Rhodri Morgan's explanation for voting in favour was that he'd simply pressed the wrong button.

Was it less finger trouble and more like the hand of friendship after all?


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