The last time Neil Hamilton was national political news was in 1997 when he lost his Tatton Parliamentary seat to Martin Bell, following the “cash for questions” affair. Nineteen years on, he is headline news again; elected to the Welsh Assembly for UKIP, rapidly gaining the UKIP leadership in Wales and – if reports are true – apparently cooking up a deal with Plaid Cymru to allow Leanne Wood to become First Minister.
It’s an unlikely alliance. Here is the leader of Plaid Cymru, a party who have made their pitch as being anti-austerity, and whose members routinely abuse Labour on social media and elsewhere as Red Tories, cutting a deal with an English nationalist party of the far right led by a man who refuses even to live in Wales. And all this in the name of undermining a Labour Party which, for all the problems it faced in the elections, remains comfortably the largest party in Wales, one seat short of an outright Senedd majority under an electoral system designed to prevent such majorities, and one seat below the record result it achieved in its annus mirabilis of 2011. Is this really what those people who voted Plaid last week wanted?
We are a long way from the talk of a progressive alliance between the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party. The SNP still talks the anti-austerity talk, while refusing to use Holyrood’s new financial powers to alleviate it. Last week the Greens put the Tories into office on Norfolk County Council, after complaining that the Labour administration wasn’t opposing the Government’s devolution campaign vigorously enough. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the participants in the alleged Progressive Alliance are united less by a desire to effect change than a desire to undermine the Labour Party; and are quite prepared to cut deals with Tories and even UKIP when it suits them. It’s not progressive at all; it’s cynical, self-indulgent and frivolous.
It’s worse in Wales when one remembers that we are in the midst of a crisis in the steel industry that threatens tens of thousands of jobs in some of the poorest communities in Britain. The very last thing those people and communities need is a political crisis, undermining the ability of the Welsh government to negotiate with authority (unless you are prepared to believe that an alliance between Plaid, UKIP and the Tory Party would provide the coherent and authoritative voice at the negotiating table that Wales needs). Above all, it’s a disgracefully irresponsible piece of behaviour that ultimately shows real contempt for the people of Wales.
And as far as progressive is concerned, how about Labour’s record here in Wales? How about free prescriptions (with Labour being the only party prepared to give an unequivocal assurance that they would continue)? How about the increased resources for the NHS, with no doctors’ strike, no outsourcing, no PFI, no privatisation? Or Flying Start, or the retention of EMA? Or Labour’s childcare pledges? Or keeping student debt down? Or the jobs that Labour has brought to Wales because its Ministers have been credible and indefatigable negotiators? Just how progressive do you want? And does anyone – anyone at all – seriously believe that a Plaid – Tory – UKIP government could really set aside what we were assured were the profound ideological differences between the parties, even if Leanne Wood wanted to retain those fine things? And where does Leanne Wood stand now on issues like the EU, or immigration, if she’s happy to rely on UKIP votes to embarass Labour?
It’s obvious that Plaid Cymru has a lot of explaining to do. They need to explain why, in the face of their rhetoric in the election, they’re prepared to sit in alliance with the Tories, let alone UKIP. They need to explain exactly what unites what Lib Dem AM Kirsty Williams rightly called “a ragbag coalition”.
And perhaps – just perhaps – we’ve heard the last of the Red Tories jibes. But that would imply that Plaid has a sense of shame.