The announcement on the board about the business scheduled for the Assembly briefing room was amusing – to cynical journalists – but also, as it turned out, completely misleading.
“Welsh Lib Dem” said the board, which sparked jokes about how small the party had recently grown.
But the gist of the press briefing was just the opposite – it was about how a party holding only one council seat in eight in Wales was able wheedle its way onto the cabinets of fully half the Welsh local authorities.
The Lib Dems hold 156 out of 1,264 seats, and yet they sit in 11 of the 22 cabinets, or similar. A trifle like Labour’s Militant Tendency of old, but far more successful.
The party performs this trick without “controlling” (ie, possessing a majority of seats) on a single authority. The National Assembly’s extremely handy Local Elections Guide 2008 lists the Lib Dems as the hardly-rans compared with the other parties (the “control” table); but then that Guide doesn’t total up cabinet seats; and neither does it total how many councils is “led” by each party (ie, who supplies the council leader”).
One of the few councils the Lib Dems most regret not having a say in is Torfaen; the result there was perhaps the biggest shock in last May’s elections – Labour hung onto control only through the assistance of the tiny Plaid Cymru group.
But the Lib Dems got their own back on Plaid in Carmarthenshire. The document written by party officials and presented to the press today states that the council is “in administration” – which is not that it is bankrupt, but that the Lib Dems are “part of the administration”. In fact, Carms could be said to be a Lib Dem failure; their single councillor votes with the controlling Independents, but has been given no seat in the cabinet.
It seems as if the Lib Dems centrally before the election pushed on all their federal parties and affiliates to follow a candidates’ policy which aims to get a core of good, able people elected on each council, who could then work towards gaining leadership on the authority through a seat in the cabinet.
There’s one thing you can say about the Glasgow election result. None of us can be sure quite why it happened, but we all knew who would pick up the winnings.
The few London journalists who know that much about Scotland seem agreed that moribund Labour has reached a late-stage of decline. And that half-a-century of control of Glasgow East with nothing to show to the local electorate bar mass poverty indicates that they deserve totally what they’ve been hit with.
Precisely the same can be said for Wales. The message last May from Merthyr, Blaenau Gwent, Newport and Torfaen – and in truth the same message came from Rhondda Cynon Taf, except that the incumbents were too complacent to realise it – indicated that the exit-door has been opened to Labour councillors.
But there’s one almighty difference between Scotland and Wales. The SNP possesses a leader who is able to dictate the political agenda…
Perhaps, indeed, it’s not Plaid’s leader who should be blamed, but the party itself. I’m unsure whether Clem Attlee would have set Britain alike with SNP-style barnstorming.
But Clem possessed an enormous message – we’re still living with the NHS part of it, even if much of the rest, such as BRS, was ditched by others as quickly as decently possible.
Does Plaid possess any such message ?
Look at what’s happening in Torfaen. Readers of the Free Press, the local weekly, were much entertained by the fury of protest when Labour, having lost so many votes and seats, were returned to power, courtesy of Plaid and a couple of other councillors.
Many of us wondered for how long the local fury would continue. Well, it continues still.
Rhodri Morgan wandered up in decidedly relaxed fashion to talk to the press in the wake of the “terrible” election results he had just witnessed. His trousers seemed to have come straight from the gardening shed and his “Chile” jumper talked all about leisure and absolutely nothing about governance. Relaxed he, indeed, was as he […]