For those who haven’t been following the results obsessively, we now have a final set of results for the National Assembly elections. They are:
Labour 30 seats (+4 from 2007)
Conservative 14 seats (+2)
Plaid Cymru 11 seats (-4)
Liberal Democrats 5 seats (-1)
The expected Lib Dem meltdown didn’t happen; nor did break-throughs for UKIP or the Greens. Labour’s gains include Trish Law’s seat in Blaenau Gwent, but otherwise appear to have come more at Plaid’s expense than anyone else’s. Plaid failed to reap any electoral benefit from being the junior partner in government (but junior partners seldom do). In the end, it was some small shifts largely in favour of Labour and against Plaid, and on nothing like the scale of the upheavals in Scotland.
There is full coverage of the results on the BBC website, here.
One story is the wide range of talent lost to the Assembly, because of the way the ban on dual candidacy forces candidates to make all-or-nothing choices. Plaid have lost Helen Mary Jones and Dr Dai Lloyd; the Conservatives, Nick Bourne and Jonathan Morgan – as well as numerous candidates who weren’t members of the outgoing Assembly. That loss greatly weakens the Assembly as an institution. A law-making body needs the best people it can get, not those who negotiate their way through the electoral minefield that the additional member system is, when coupled with a ban on dual candidacy. (In Scotland, the SNP do the opposite – their strongest candidates run for both constituency and list seats. That means that there will be some impressive talent on their back benches, even when they get a long way down the list candidates.)
The next issue is what sort of government results. Labour tried to govern alone after 2003, but found that seriously hard work, even with the limited powers the Assembly then had. There have been rumours for some time that it would seek a coalition even if it had a narrow majority after these elections. Those have been repeated by various figures (Leighton Andrews AM and Owen Smith MP, in particular) in the last few hours (see BBC News story here, and discussion by Betsan Powys here). The question is: coalition with whom? Obviously not the Conservatives. Hard words about Plaid, and its role in the last government, have been uttered during the campaign, and they might have a lasting effect on the Plaid side. Moreover, this would mean Labour doing a deal with the ‘losing’ party of the election, which given Labour’s rhetorical insistence on ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ might be tough. For their part Plaid may well wish to lick their wounds, given the lack of benefit they’ve derived from their last stint in government and the need to rethink what their objectives are now that they’ve secured a legislature for Wales – a parliament in fact if not in name. Kirsty Williams has implied that the Liberal Democrats might be willing to consider joining such a government, but there would be two big obstacles to that, and the Guardian has made much of that (here). One is the reliability of the Lib Dems as a party, and how reliable their AMs would be in office. Misgivings about that were part of the reason for Plaid’s leadership deciding against the Rainbow coalition in 2007. The other is the difficulty of having a government committed to opposing the Coalition in London, while at the same time including a partner in that coalition. That might be a bit easier if (as is being predicted) the UK Coalition becomes more ‘business-like’ in its working after the AV referendum result. It would be a powerful way for the Lib Dems to signal their independence to their partners at Westminster. It would probably also make life somewhat easier when it comes to financial negotiations too (more likely to get favourable treatment) – though as the Welsh Lib Dems have been the only consistent Welsh supporters of devolved tax raising powers, and Carwyn
Williams Jones has so conspicuously opposed them, that may be tricky. (It would imply that the Welsh Government’s position about that would be resolved before negotiations with the UK Government opened, as part of the coalition negotiations.) But the key problem will remain. How do you operate as an oppositional government when you’re opposing something of which your junior partner is a part?
What will be problematic, no matter what, will be ensuring that the new Assembly does provide the sort of robust scrutiny of the executive that is a key role for the legislature in a Westminster-model parliamentary system. The Assembly’s record on this so far has not been good, though the Constitutional Affairs Committee did produce a useful if little-heralded report on legislative procedures and scrutiny earlier this year. (Sadly, Janet Ryder, chair of that committee, stood down from the Assembly at the elections.) Back-bench members even of governing parties do their voters nad parties the best service by challenging robustly what government proposes, rather than forming part of a comfortable consensus that lets ill-thought-through schemes see the light of day. With so many new faces in the Assembly (23 or 24; certainly more than a third of the AMs), inexperience alone may inhibit members taking on that role. But it is key to making to the new, legislative, Assembly work properly.