Tag Archives: wales

Who killed the rainbow?

An unseemly spat has broken out between Bethan Jenkins and Peter Black on Twitter:

PB: @bethanjenkins you were considering rainbow option weeks after LD exec vote. Your rejected it. Nothing delusional about that.
BJ: @peterblackwales- your party refused it before that.
PB: @bethanjenkins no it didnt Bethan.My party voted for it. Stop rewriting history.
BJ: @peterblackwales i think you are the one doing that.
PB: @bethanjenkins not at all. Review the events not the myths generated by your spin doctors.

…and so on. Speaking as an outsider, what surprises me is that this is even a matter of debate. The timetable of events is quite clear:

24 May 2009: Rainbow Coalition talks in disarray after Lib Dem NEC rejects the proposal on the chair’s casting vote.
25 May 2009: Rhodri Morgan reelected first minister unopposed.
26 May 2009: Special Lib Dem conference overturns executive decision.
27 June 2009: Labour and Plaid form “One Wales” coalition.

Now, you could argue a lot of things here. The first thing would be that the Lib Dems were badly split, chaotic, unreliable and not exactly broadcasting their fitness to govern. You could argue that Plaid were only doing the sensible thing from both Wales’ and their own best interests. If you did, I’d be inclined to agree with you. What you can’t argue however is that the Lib Dems were the ones to kill the rainbow coalition talks – that responsibility rests with Plaid and Plaid alone. If you read the quotes from both Mike German and Nick Bourne at the time the deal was struck, it is clear that both of them considered the Rainbow deal to still be on the table. It was Plaid who walked away.

I simply don’t understand why Bethan is denying responsibility here instead of taking pride in walking away from a deal which I sniffed of stitch up (at least from the Tories’ point of view – they hardly seemed to be negotiating at all). I suspect it has something to do with the fact that she doesn’t feel particularly proud of Plaid’s record in office.

But the other thing about this whole debacle worth noting is that what was bad for political parties was very good indeed for democracy. One of the common criticisms of proportional voting systems is that they lead to government being stitched up by people in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms. What the 2007 Welsh (and for that matter, Scottish) experience shows is that this is far from the case. The Welsh negotiations were held in public – too public for a lot of people’s liking. They took place over a period of weeks and the challenge was to sort out an agreement that best reflected how Wales as a whole had voted.

Contrast that with FPTP. Normally there are no formal coalition deals, to be sure. But since all parties are coalitions of interest, that isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of negotiations going on behind the scenes. But ultimately, as the typical Labour backbencher will agree (off the record and out of the earshot of the whips), their power is strictly limited. The real power lies in the party funders and the pollsters. With so much focused on winning those all-important swing votes in those all-important marginal seats, the number of people who have a real say in proceedings is just a handful.

To be sure, parties are dependent on funders and pollsters in elections regardless of the electoral system, but their role is much more limited. Parties have to fight for every vote instead of being forced to take most of their core vote for granted and the party or coalition which goes on to take office has to have a mandate from at least 50% of the electorate.

The negotiations surrounding the running of Wales in 2007 were not very attractive, but there is little doubt that process was a robust one.

Nine wishes for 2009 #1: Lembit Opik to prove me wrong

Partly, admittedly, because I set up a Google Alert of his name earlier this year during the Presidential election, Lembit Opik never stops getting in my face. His latest interview was in Wales On Sunday yesterday (odd since just a week ago Lembit was dismissing the same paper as “poor use of [his] time“). Regarding the presidential election, to the surprise of no-one, he is utterly unrepentent:

“I’ve been thinking about why the party establishment did not support me for the presidency. I put forward a new agenda, painting politics in primary colours, and perhaps they’re just not ready for it.

“I do politics in quite a distinctive way, and maybe they’re not comfortable with that kind of approach.

“I want us to be a party where we can express a strong corporate personality and strong individual personalities.

“Perhaps I frighten the horses, but the point is that, if you don’t, you’ll never create a political stampede.

“I do my best to reach out to the kind of people who don’t watch Question Time and Newsnight, and I think it would help politics if more politicians did so.”

But it wasn’t just the party establishment that didn’t support Lembit – it was 70+% of the party. Chris Huhne wasn’t supported by the establishment in either leadership contest he stood in, yet managed to leapfrog Simon Hughes in the first and came within 500 votes of winning the second. Are we all supposed to be mindless automatons?

What genuinely perplexes me about all this is that if Lembit could point to a single tangible fact which proved his hypothesis that appearing on Have I Got News For You was actually beneficial to the party, much of the criticism would be muted. The counter hypothesis is that a) most of the programmes he appears on either ignore politics altogether or advance an anti-politics agenda which Lembit himself does nothing to address and that b) while no-one can dispute the rise of Boris “LOL!!1!! LOOK AT HIS FUNNEE HAIR!!?!!” Johnson, Johnson never went within a million miles of half the paper-bag-opening-level programmes that are Lembit’s meat and drink and, frankly, when it comes to personality, Lembit is no Bozza. Have you ever seen a more polite, well-spoken individual on HIGNFY, Big Brother’s Little Brother or Celebrity Apprentice? The fundamental problem with Lembit’s celebrity appearances is that he doesn’t even make the most of them. In that respect, those who compare him to the Cyril Smiths and Clement Freuds of the past are missing the point.

But go on Lembit, prove me wrong in 2009. It is put up or shut up time. Because I can see how his grand master plan might work, I just don’t see it actually working.

If he is to do that however, he will have to embrace technology – something he has thus far managed to avoid in the way that 8 year old boys avoid baths. Oh, he bragged about his supporters on Facebook, many of whom appeared to be of the “LOL!!!1! LOOK AT HIS WONKEE CHIN!!!?!?!” variety, but that is a dead giveaway of someone who just doesn’t get technology. He doesn’t even have a website, or rather, he has *snigger* an ePolitix one, which is almost even worse. Even his Daily Sport column isn’t published online. So where do all these people who see Lembit on the television have to go? If they Google him, they’ll find a Wikipedia Page, a bland profile on the official party website, his defunct Presidential campaign website and a couple of videos. After that, it’s girls of a weathered and Cheeky variety all the way down. Lembit’s online “narrative” is written almost entirely by other people.

Iain Dale boasted 65,000 absolute unique visitors in November and 578,000 unique visitors in 2008. Given that only a fraction of Daily Sport readers will read Lembit’s column whereas almost all of Dale’s visitors are there because they want to be, those are figures that should give him pause for thought. If Lembit’s media appearances really do help him to reach out to people who would otherwise be unengaged, then he ought to be able to match and even beat Iain Dale’s readership in very little time at all.

It isn’t as if his target audience are somehow not online. Indeed, the people who Lembit claims to be reaching out to are over-represented on the web.

So what I’d really like to see in 2009 is a Lembit Opik blog to put us all in our places. If Lembit is right, then such a blog would climb to prominence quite quickly. What’s more, it would bridge the gap between the programmes he appears on and his politics. He’d win, his critics would be proven wrong but wouldn’t mind and the party would gain a major new asset. So how about it?

Who will be the next Welsh Lib Dem Leader?

I’ve written another Comment is Free article on this very subject:

Make no mistake: this election is no shoo-in for either candidate. They are both extremely strong contenders. At its heart, it has become quickly apparent that this election, more than any other in recent years, is going to be about what the Liberal Democrats are for. This isn’t merely a question of policy; it is a question about where the party strikes the balance between gaining power to change things and standing firm in its beliefs with a view to inspiring the electorate. There is real merit in both points of view and it is a question that, with a hung parliament still a possibility, the Lib Dems may yet end up have to answer at a UK level.