Welsh Lib Dems strip away non-essentials

Tim Farron
Image caption Tim Farron accused Plaid of helping Labour ministers when they were in trouble

Can the Welsh Liberal Democrats stop history repeating itself?

We now all know what a disaster for the party looks and feels like, after witnessing it in the general election last year.

They have done a lot of soul-searching in recent months, and have come up with a strategy to strip away everything they believe will be surplus to requirements in the assembly campaign.

It's all geared towards getting a message across in a few sentences on the doorstep about plans to reduce class sizes and raise the number of nurses.

Difficult territory

In marked contrast to recent Lib Dem conferences, there's little talk of the constitution at this weekend's spring conference in Cardiff.

And there's no public talk at least about potential coalitions.

The leader Tim Farron did make one nod to post-election politics in Cardiff Bay during his speech, when he accused Plaid of always being willing to prop up a Labour administration whenever it got into trouble.

This is potentially difficult territory, as the party has been in coalition with Labour in the past, and has struck three out of the past four budget deals allowing the Labour Welsh government to get its financial arrangements through without an overall majority.

In fact, the deals of recent years which Kirsty Williams has struck with Carwyn Jones will form a central part of the Lib Dem campaign, as they look to defend the money (£100m a year) which they have secured for the pupil deprivation grant.

Image caption An assembly insider predicted Kirsty Williams could be the only Lib Dem AM after May

One question is how the party squares the willingness to help Labour survive in government with ripping into the Welsh government at conference time?

In other words, does the anti-Labour rhetoric reflect the reality of what the Lib Dem group has done during most years of the past administration?

The Lib Dems say they've secured valuable concessions that are important to them.

Combined threats

The flip side of the argument is that if Labour are as bad as the Lib Dems say they have been in government, why has it, in effect, supported them?

Behind the scenes, Labour have been pleasantly surprised by how relatively easy it has been to get their budgets passed every year.

There has not been blood on the carpet every time a budget has been voted on and, as a result, you could argue that this has been a group of opposition parties that has not made life that difficult for the government.

On the big picture challenge for the Lib Dems, the party will need to call on their resilience which has seen them survive crises in the past.

But they haven't faced a combination of threats like these in recent years with the rise of UKIP, together with a near wipe-out at a parliamentary level.

One insider at the assembly unkindly referred to the prospect of Kirsty Williams being a sole-trader after the assembly elections, with the other list members not making it through.

This is why the Lib Dems know they're in the fight of their lives, and why they need to squeeze everything out of their achievements in recent years.

And even that might not be enough.