The 4th Assembly elections take place tomorrow (May 5th). So far we have had a Labour/LibDem coalition, a Labour minority government and a Labour/Plaid coalition. With the Tories on the slide from the 20% high-water mark they managed in Wales when Labour held power in London, the LibDems in meltdown and Plaid as usual handicapped by having no resources and no media voice, Labour are in the ideal position to win outright for the first time – and opinion polls suggest it could happen. Riding the unpopularity of the wicked + stupid coalition at Westminster, Labour’s uninspiring, safe-as-milk campaign has relied entirely on putting Carwyn Jones in front of every camera and on every leaflet in the hope his folksy, man-of-the-people shtick will wrench the tribal Labour vote away from their remote controls and down to the polling station.
You wouldn’t know from the First Minister’s wearisome bonhomie that, even allowing for the constricting, UK-set economic and constitutional parameters within which Assembly Governments must operate, political parties for the first time have the chance to implement policies that can be actualised by legislatitive clout and hence change Wales. Labour’s timid manifesto takes no account of this sea-change. Don’t rock the boat is the message, when Wales is crying out for radicalism, originality and momentum. We are witnesses at the birth of a specifically Welsh politics – the type of national framework that is a fact of life in most of the world, but something not experienced in Wales since the squabbling, ever-mutating, pre-Norman Conquest kingdoms of a thousand years ago, and never experienced at all in the democratic era. Over time, Wales will develop the full spectrum of political positions found in all democracies (plus, perhaps, a few uniquely Welsh ones) as we proceed along the long and winding road to self-government. But whether the UK Labour party’s Welsh sub-branch that Jones heads is part of this process will depend on its willingness and ability to cut loose from London control and become an independent Welsh entity. If the example of other Welsh institutions with a modicum of autonomy is anything to go by, this is going to take some time (eg: the Church in Wales, disestablished and freed from Canterbury control in 1920, still hidebound by twee, finger-buffet CofE conservatism nearly a century later; or the FAW, 135 years old, but still peeking at the world from behind mummy England’s petticoats). Cosy Carwyn may not see the significance of these historic changes in Welsh governance, but I do. That’s why I’m setting up a new Wales category in this blog, and this is the first post in that category.
I will, of course, be voting Plaid as always, in the hope that the only dedicated Welsh party can deny Labour the overall majority that they do not deserve and that they would abuse and mishandle as sure as night follows day. The Cardiff South & Penarth constituency where I live is a safe Labour seat. Sitting AM, Lorraine ‘Barrage’ Barrett, is standing down to become a “secular celebrant” for the British Humanist Association (she’s just an old hippy really, her husband’s rock promoter Paul ‘Legs’ Barrett and her son the DJ High Contrast) and Labour’s replacement candidate is ex-Butetown councillor and head of the Wales TUC, party apparatchik Vaughan Gething. He is certain to be an AM by tomorrow night. The LibDems have given up here to concentrate their efforts on neighbouring Cardiff Central, drafting in party members from across Wales in an all-hands-to-the-pump effort to hold onto that seat. The Tories also know they haven’t a hope in hell in Cardiff South; that’s why their candidate is the embarrassing Englishman Ben Gray, aged 27 going on 87 and the very archetype of the blubbery Tory Boy (asked who his hero was, he came up with international law-breaker Henry Kissinger). Plaid’s Liz Musa also has no chance, but the proud Black Welshwoman from Riverside is head and shoulders above the other candidates, and the only one you’d comfortably let through your front door. There is a second vote for a party rather than a named candidate to determine the 20 AMs elected in the five regional top-up lists. In seats like Cardiff South, where they don’t count the Labour vote they weigh it, it’s even more important to use this vote to support Plaid than in the first-past-the-post constituency vote, because these votes are not ‘wasted’ and give the Assembly true proportionality.
I’d better mention that, at the same time, there is the UK-wide referendum on the Alternative Vote for Westminster elections (we’re doing so much voting in Wales I’m worried about Repetitive Strain Injury). This one’s simplicity itself. David Cameron says vote ‘No’: therefore, vote ‘Yes’.