Making pluralism work

I am instinctively a pluralist. I don’t like the system of Police & Crime Commissioners because it places all the decisions in the hands of one person – and policing in particular should be on the basis of consensus and consent, not a single political position that happens to hold sway for the time being.

What would have happened in Wales if each region had elected five people on a proportional system? The following is based on the d’Hondt quota system rather than exploring preference voting:

Party Dyfed-Powys North Gwent South TOTAL
Labour 34,799 54,892 76,893 161,529 328,113
1 2 3 3
Conservative 47,093 42,005 50,985 70,799 210,882
2 1 1 1
Lib-Dems 20,725 24,438 45,163
Plaid Cymru 52,469 67,179 37,916 70,770 228,334
2 2 1 1
UKIP 20,870 25,943 46,813
Independent 11,561 23,487 67,454 102,502

In South Wales and Gwent, Labour would have a majority. Same result you might say – but it isn’t. Labour would be able to “impose their will” – but formal decisions would need to be made as a group and would need to be tested in a way that decisions by the Police & Crime Commissioner are not under the current system. Crucially, the opportunity for the lead person to “go rogue” and sack a Chief Constable on a personal whim is removed.

In North Wales and Dyfed-Powys, there would be no majority – no dominant voice that decides to the exclusion of others. But that reflects the political make-up of those two regions and would therefore be a good thing not a bad thing. As with the previous Police Authority, a consensus would be found on the way forward. I think what came out of both rounds of PCC elections is that people don’t actually want policing led by a politician – so confining the politicians’ role to hiring and firing, setting a strategic direction and holding the force to account – and doing these things on the basis of consensus – would be entirely sensible. One would expect the Chief Constable to be the one with the high profile, not the politicians.

I am not particularly advocating this system – actually the previous system of an organic link between police governance and local government was effective and had stood the test of time. And while I support proportional representation, I would prefer to see a system which maintains a much clearer link between geographic areas and elected members for all elected instead of allowing a few seats which can be won with very dispersed support, little accountability and can be captured by extremists. I have previously written about how this could be achieved.

There is a basis for parties to work together to pursue shared goals but this does not need to be on the basis of either party ditching its commitments. That is the contrast between the “One Wales” agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru 2007-2011 and between the Tories and the Lib-Dems 2010-2015. Had Plaid Cymru stood by what they had done during their period of government instead of reverting during the election to criticising a government which they had been part of, they might have fared rather better in the ensuing election.

But what if there isn’t broad agreement between two parties on what needs to be done? Then a minority government is a more sensible option, with opposition parties deciding whether to support individual measures. In 2015 David Cameron won a parliamentary majority by persuading people who were undecided that a Parliament without a majority would lead to chaos. I thought Labour’s response to this was misjudged. Instead of refusing to countenance the possibility that Labour would be the largest party but without an overall majority, Labour could have reasonably made the argument that in this situation it would be able to expect a parliamentary majority for almost all of its programme – support from the Tories on defence and national security, support from the nationalists on a more positive economic programme. It is only if the other parties failed to follow through on their principles that there would be a crisis.

According to Wales Online, Carwyn Jones told Leanne Wood “that he wanted to run a minority government with the two initial priorities of dealing with the steel crisis and working towards a Remain vote in next month’s European referendum.” What happened next would be a matter for further discussion in terms of the budget and legislative programme. Leanne Wood asked for a delay in the vote – but not for further talks with Labour. Instead she decided to put herself forward for First Minister, seeking the support of the Tories and UKIP before she had even had the conversation with Carwyn.

What would have happened next if she had won? The only reason to put yourself forward for First Minister is that you think you can form a Government. If Leanne Wood genuinely put herself forward for the job with Tory and UKIP support without intending to follow through and form a Government with them, the implications are actually more serious than the breach of a clearly-articulated promise that she would not work with them.

Democracy is a delicate flower – and pluralism even more so. Leighton’s unfortunate remarks at the end of the previous assembly were ill-judged and I can understand Plaid being offended. They may have cost him his seat. But if the public are to maintain confidence in our political institutions then it is incumbent on those who have been elected to work in the broader public interest rather than playing games. Talk of “cheap dates” is wrong on a number of levels. Politicians should be looking for agreement – building consensus on proposals which can emerge stronger from the dialogue because they have had the rough edges knocked off them and are able to command broader support. If there is broad agreement to start with, this process should be fairly straightforward, not costly.

Leanne has had a lucky escape. Kirsty Williams could have simply sat on her hands instead of supporting Carwyn and Leanne would now be First Minister. If the howling voices from Plaid Cymru supporters are to be believed she would not have known what to do next – or would have attempted to run a government with the support of just 12 of the 60 members.

Time to take a deep breath and step back from the brink. Democracy is too important to play games.


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