The Welsh Assembly has been an interesting one recently – at the election, Labour lost their majority, and UKIP made massive gains. Additionally, there have been many melodramatic headlines about the election of a First Minister – the head of the devolved Welsh Government – as it was deadlocked between 29 votes for Labour’s Carwyn Jones, and 29 votes for the Leanne Wood, the Leader of Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru.
In return for the support of Plaid Cymru in reinstating Jones as First Minister, Welsh Labour have made concessions to Plaid:
- Creation of additional apprenticeships
- The ending of the ‘postcode lottery’ for healthcare
- The creation of a ‘National Infrastructure Commission’ to help develop the Welsh economy
- Creating a research centre into the future of the Welsh steel industry
- Making childcare from the age of three affordable
Wood has pledged to be the most “effective opposition the Welsh Assembly has ever seen”. She did, however, issue a warning to Welsh Labour:
“They don’t have that option of another party, they have to work with us, and why should we make it easy for them?
“What we saw [in the First Minister vote last week] last week from that party was arrogance, it was complacency, and what we saw was a sense of entitlement on display.
“That vote happened because they refused to delay proceedings for just one week so that meaningful talks could take place. Well, we did get our week to talk, but it took some drama to get there.”
Former Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Kirsty Williams, who recently stepped down following the collapse of her Assembly Group after its reduction to just one Assembly Member – Williams herself – has been invited to take up the role of Education Secretary in the Welsh Government, and has managed to seek concessions:
- Infant class sizes being reduced to a maximum of 25
- More nurses through an extended nurse staffing levels law
- The funding of 20,000 additional affordable homes
- Introduction of a new ‘Rent to Own’ housing model
- Discrimination in the NHS against mental health is to end
Lib Dem members will be asked to vote on this agreement at a Special Conference held in Newtown, Powys on Saturday.
On her invitation, Williams said,
“Government in Wales has entered a new era. Where there is common ground, we must have the confidence and ambition to work together for the good of its people.
“The test of our new approach is not the warmth of our words, but our commitment to get things done.
“It is in this spirit, subject to the support of my party, that I am accepting the First Minister’s invitation to serve as Cabinet Secretary for Education.
This level of cross-party support is extremely unusual in politics in Great Britain – normally, if a party does not win a majority, seats are divided enough for a formal coalition to be a valid option. It has happened at Westminster, between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, and in both Scotland and Wales between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
With Wood’s warning, and the knife-edge power dynamics within the Senedd, the Welsh Assembly for the next term will definitely be one to keep an eye on.