Plaid-Labour e-cigs row leaves a cloud over Senedd

Carwyn Jones
Image caption Carwyn Jones said he faced similar jibes on a regular basis and ignores them

Some observers of politics in Cardiff Bay have called the fourth assembly term a bit boring, with Carwyn Jones' Labour minority administration constrained by the numbers of the opposition parties.

With that in mind, no one was expecting the extraordinary end to the final vote on the final day of business at the Senedd before the assembly election.

The vote on proposals to ban the use of e-cigarettes in many public places, known as the Public Health Bill, saw the Welsh Government's plans fail at the final hurdle.

In order for the bill to pass, Labour were counting on the support of a few Plaid Cymru AMs.

The reason it failed was because Plaid pulled its support after taking offence at comments by Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews who said a previous deal with Plaid was "a cheap date".

No one likes the feeling of being taken for granted - but that's exactly how Plaid felt.

Soon after Mr Andrews made his comment, Plaid AMs held a meeting in a room near the assembly chamber where a unanimous decision was taken to change it from being a free vote on the bill to one where all Plaid AMs should oppose the government.

Once the seriousness of the situation became apparent to Labour, there were said to be frantic scenes going on to try to persuade AMs to change their mind.

One source told me efforts were even made to persuade the Liberal Democrats, who fiercely opposed the bill, to make themselves scarce at the time of the vote so the government would have the numbers.

They didn't and an almighty row broke out.

Image copyright Thinkstock

First off was First Minister Carwyn Jones who said the Plaid response was the most childish thing he'd ever seen, claiming it was a joke to walk away from legislation that would safeguard people.

Health Minister Mark Drakeford said it was a waste of five years of work. That may or not be true as it could of course be reintroduced after the election but who's to say what the priorities will be of a new administration.

In the meantime, Plaid was defending its actions. Its big challenge was trying not to appear as if it had thrown its toys out of the pram in a petulant fashion.

Senior Plaid figures said a line had been crossed by Mr Andrews in belittling the party using a sexist phrase.

Was this a story for the bubble of Cardiff Bay or the wider world as well? Dr Phil Banfield of the British Medical Association said it was more than a row among politicians and he urged them "not to play games with the health of the nation".

So, what's the legacy of this episode? A number of people have told me that it'll quickly be forgotten about in the context that the parties will all be taking chunks out of each other anyway in the election campaign.

But I'm not so sure. This was a notch above the usual political knockabout and there's real anger on both sides.

Labour and Plaid have been coalition partners before. Many people believe some kind of deal between the two could be on the cards after the election.

But a bruising few days in which the parties have traded insults about arrogance and not being fit to govern is bound to leave its mark among the personalities involved.

The failure of the Public Health Bill may not be forgotten in a hurry.