+++Breaking: Welsh Special Conference to debate whether Kirsty Williams should enter Cabinet as Education Secretary

Kirsty Williams 2We knew last weekend that Kirsty Williams was talking to Welsh Labour about accepting a Cabinet position and now we know what it is and what she will be bringing to the Cabinet table, subject to the approval of the Welsh Party at a Special Conference on Saturday.

From the Welsh Liberal Democrat website:

Kirsty Williams and the First Minister have reached a Progressive Agreement between the two parties to work together in Government.

The First Minister has invited Kirsty Williams to serve as Cabinet Secretary for Education and subject to ratification by the Welsh Liberal Democrats this weekend, she has accepted.

The agreement enables the implementation of key Welsh Liberal Democrat policy priorities that the party campaigned on during the recent election, ensuring that:

Infant class sizes are reduced to a maximum of 25;
There are more nurses, in more settings, through an extended nurse staffing levels law;
20,000 extra affordable homes are funded;
A new ‘Rent to Own’ housing model is introduced;
Mental health discrimination is ended.
Members of the Welsh Liberal Democrats will be asked to endorse this agreement at a Special Conference will take place this Saturday (21 May).

Commenting on the invitation to be Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams AM 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.

“I will work with others in Government, across the Assembly and with parents, students, employers and teachers in our shared ambitions for the highest standards and opportunity for all. I will be open to ideas and innovation from all quarters – here at home and beyond.

“I agree with the First Minister that no one party has a monopoly on good ideas. Working together we have reached agreement on a range of issue that enables us to work together in government for the good of Wales.

“I’ve been fortunate to receive the support of friends, family and fellow Welsh Liberal Democrat members across the country in the last week. We stood on a manifesto that was ambitious and optimistic, with plans and ideas for education at its heart. I am honoured to have the opportunity to take forward those commitments.”

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, Mark Williams, said “I fully endorse the Progressive Agreement between Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Labour Party. It is right, now, that this matter is put forward to the membership of the Welsh Liberal Democrats at this weekend’s special Conference. We practice what we preach, the value of democracy through one member, one vote.

“Having campaigned for so many facets of the document in the last Assembly elections, it is heartening to see these issues pursued at the heart of Government. Kirsty Williams has always been an excellent standard bearer for liberal democracy and the needs of education, and will continue to do so within and outside Government.”

“Kirsty will show what the Lib Dems are about and lead the way for the rest of Britain”

Tim Farron was enthusiastic about the news:

Kirsty Williams is one of the most effective and brilliant politicians I know. Having her at the heart of the Welsh Government is testament to her ability and reflects the respect she’s built up across party boundaries.

Kirsty will be a strong Liberal voice in the Assembly, challenging the horrid and sexist views of UKIP, but also holding Labour’s feet to the fire.

Education is the essential investment to allow everyone to succeed. And I have absolute confidence that Kirsty is about to have an incredible impact in improving education for children in Wales.

Kirsty can now deliver smaller class sizes, more nurses, more houses and end the discrimination of mental health for the people of Wales. Kirsty will show what the Liberal Democrats are about, and lead the way for the rest of Britain.

This will be an incredible challenge, and there’s no-one I can imagine better suited to the role.  Liberal Democrats are in politics to change people’s lives for the better. This is a great opportunity for Kirsty to put our policies into action and she is right to take it. It is also right that party members have the right to back her decision at a special conference.

 

There is no doubt that Kirsty Williams would be a brilliant Minister. We saw from the way she persuaded the 60 Assembly members to back her Private Members’ Bill  introducing statutory nursing levels that she has the skills to work extremely effectively.

However, will a Welsh Party, in the wake of a crushing defeat for which they may blame the Coalition experience, back this move?

Well, the list of policies she brings to the table is impressive and distinctly Liberal Democrat. Extension of more nurses, mental health, more houses, reduced class sizes. Every single person in Wales could benefit in some way from this.  If this works well, Welsh voters will have a choice between a UKIP that can’t even get through its first week without falling out with each other and with its new leader, Neil Hamilton, for heavens’ sake, reaching new heights of misogynistic crassness, and the Liberal Democrats who have done all these good things.

There are pitfalls, though. There will be no distinctive Liberal Democrat voice in the Assembly. How they deal with issues which come up outside the agreement will also be important. Kirsty should not be bound, for example, by a Labour government which may not welcome as much further devolution as she would.

Kirsty is only too aware of the potential risks, though, and if she thinks it’s worth doing, then I’d be inclined to trust her judgement. No doubt the Welsh Party will look very carefully at all the angles on Saturday.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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45 Comments

  • Conor McGovern 19th May '16 - 6:16pm

    Agreed – if we can have a business relationship and set out clearly where we agree, where we differ and our Liberal achievements, this could be rewarding for Wales and our party there. To be honest there’s nothing much to lose, take a risk.

  • A difficult challenge lies ahead but I imagine this Labour government were willing to steal the best of the Welsh Lib Dems’ ideas so may as well get a cabinet credit.

    Ultimately an example of a government where shared good ideas lead rather than tribilistic school-yard bickering and ideological changes for no purpose rather than flexing ones muscles could be a very good thing for Wales and a very good thing for the UK.

  • Lets not overplay this. If Kirsty Williams gets the education job and can get Lib Dem policies through that will be great for her and the party. However, she is one assembly member and her influence – outside education – will be small. The Welsh Lib Dems and Tim Farron are getting a little over excited, it will be the Labour party calling the shots in Wales.

  • Education is a tough call – but sufficiently distinctive for Kirsty to make an impact if she keeps asserting her independence (which the Rose Garden lot didn’t).

    1. Working with Labour might just start to redress the balance of the Clegg/Tory Coalition folk memory.

    2.Have a clear exit strategy in her head if things don’t work out (which Clegg & Co didn’t).

    3. Be clear what her policy priorities are (and take best advice from within the party), to keep asserting them, and get the professionals and the parents on her side.

    4. Insist on a guarantee of funding as an early matter for agreement.

    5. Tell Adonis where to stick his Academy Schools if he tries to inflict them on Wales.

    Good luck, Kirsty. Good to see a woman taking a high profile Lib Dem role.

  • Paul Pettinger 19th May '16 - 7:24pm

    The Wales Bill is likely to devolve powers over elections. Welsh members should be told what the coalition’s plans are for ensuring equal votes, especially for local elections, which still uses First Past the Post. Basic democratic equality for voters should be at the forefront of the Party’s demands.

  • Martin Land 19th May '16 - 7:28pm

    Well done. However difficult a role this may be, Kirsty is showing the people of Wales that Lib Dems put serving them first.

  • paul barker 19th May '16 - 8:02pm

    This raises more general questions about coalition & the damage we suffered from joining The Coalition. I have slowly come to the conclusion that joining a coalition wasnt the problem, still less how we behaved in it. The problem was that our voters werent prepared for us in Government at UK level, they didnt expect it & they didnt want it; they had a vague idea of what Libdems are “for” & that didnt include Ministers.
    The background is that British voters as a whole have a very negative attitude to Government in General, most administrations start to lose votes as soon as they get power. In addition most Parties lose members in Goverment & gain members when they go back into Opposition, demonstrating that the negative attitudes even extend to those weirdos who think Politics is a good thing.
    The Libdems were a special case, having been in Opposition for a Century. We got all the negativity directed at Governments, even by their own voters, undiluted by any loyalty or the allowances made for those who are trying their best. Our voters didnt want us even trying to be a Government.
    So what can we do ? We can talk about wanting Power, we can be more careful in criticising those who hold power & we can take positions in Government whenever we can. In the long run, we can built a cadre of voters who have enough loyalty not to desert us whenever we take responsibility.

  • Kirsty seems to me to be a very sensible and intelligent Lib Dem. I think she will get the very best that she can for education in Wales. And I very much doubt there will be any “Rose Garden” moments nor any comments like ” at this rate we won’t have anything to disagree about in the bloody Leader’s Debates”.

  • Bad move, do we never learn. Will she stay in the Lib Dems? I have my doubts.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th May '16 - 8:53pm

    Oh, Theakes, what a negative comment. And Kirsty has been a member of this party since she was a teenager, she is a liberal to her core. How can you disrespect her by suggesting such a thing?

  • Caron, quite easily, I do not have my head in the clouds and talk political realities. This could destroy what is left of the Lib Dems in Wales.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th May '16 - 9:04pm

    @Theakes: It’s a risk, but it was more your inference that Kirsty might not stay in the party that annoyed me. What a terrible thing to suggest when she’s just managed to negotiate a clear way to implement many key elements of the Liberal Democrat manifesto that people actually care about. No AV referendum or other banana skins here. I’m not saying it’s all going to be plain sailing, but it’s an opportunity she and the Welsh party would not be well-advised to turn down.

  • well of course the last education cabinet post was Leighton Andrews, a Liberal Democrat candidate in parliamentary elections. Leighton joined Labour when he married and moved to Wales. Kirsty has been there and fighting for the party,believe me she will have been approached by other parties prior to this

  • Caron, sounds like very recent party history repeating itself. Remember I championed Kirsty for the leadership of the party a few months ago. I have several Welsh relatives from both North and South Wales whom we have lost because of coalition and am a Welsh football supporter. The Welsh party and Kirsty in particualr would be well advised to stay in opposition, carve there own niche and not bolster Labour. Hard heads suggest do not get involved particualrly when you have just been routed at the polls. The public will not remember us putting a couple of Lib dem policies into action, they will remember coalition. I fear for the Welsh party over the next 2 years. As I said will we never learn from past exepeeriences.

  • Neil Woollcott 19th May '16 - 9:17pm

    What is the point of getting elected if one doesn’t want to make a difference? This is the right choice by Kirsty and Wales will be more liberal thanks to her actions. For those nay sayers, if you are only prepared to govern when the Lib Dems are in a majority then you need to remove your heads from the clouds.

  • Matt (Bristol) 19th May '16 - 9:28pm

    Perhaps it is a good thing Kirsty did not retain the leadership after all — having Mark Williams as the Welsh Leader and Kirsty as a Welsh Minister does go some way toward potentially facilitating some kind of differentiation.

    …if the Welsh party agree. Which is their prerogative, naturally.

  • Kirsty obviously wants to make a difference in Wales, I hope she does. As to how it affects the Welsh Lib Dems, well it can only be a positive, lets face it there is little to lose.

  • There is nothing wrong with coalition in principle, but to make a success of it the junior partner has to have both leverage and the willingness to use it. The risk for Kirsty is that she doesn’t have much leverage – she’s on her own, her vote doesn’t even give the administration a majority, and she’ll find it difficult to play the “my group won’t take this card.” The clear risk is that she’ll end up effectively a hostage, with only the one-shot nuclear option of resignation in her locker.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th May '16 - 9:30pm

    @Theakes: If you want a good example of recent party history repeating itself, you might want to think about the highly successful coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland where we did get credit for implementing some key reforms in the early years of the Parliament.

  • well kirsty will be a very able minister (and heaven knows we need some of them in wales), but i have just two words of caution and would urge anyone who doesn’t know what they mean to look them up – Diamond Review.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th May '16 - 10:21pm

    The key is to not look like a sell-out. This is the problem with coalition: people think you are trading policies for a seat in government. I support coalitions, but I know many will immediately try to paint her as a sell out. She needs a lot of concessions.

    Regards

  • Caron, Scotland, absolutely but look what has happened since. 23% down to 7% and 5th place behind the Greens leaving a mountain to climb. Junior partners in coalition get the blame once the tide turns. It happens almost everywhere. Kirsty would be advised to wheel back and quick.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th May '16 - 11:34pm

    @Theakes: We were going down in Scotland before the 07 election but that was of our own making. We did a great job in Government. If you had told me 6 months ago that we would still have 5 MSPs & would win two seats from the SNP, I wouldn’t have believed you, but we played an absolute blinder of a campaign and have at least consolidated. We have a really strong team and strong messages and a brilliant leader.

  • Theakes. We previously spent 4 years in coalition in the Welsh Assembly and 8 years in the Scottish Parliament. In neither case was the result the same electoral disaster that followed the recent Westminster Coalition. Perhaps because we were not, in Wales and Scotland, working with the Conservatives. Perhaps because we implemented Lib Dem policies without scrapping and/or U Turning on key policies we had just fought the election on. Perhaps because we did not have the suicidal Rose Garden Love Ins or declare that we had a meeting of minds with not a Cigarette Paper between us.Perhaps because we did not ‘go native’ but stayed true to the Lib Dem beliefs and policies our members and voters supported. Perhaps because of all four of those factors.

    Coalition, competently handled, does not have to lead to electoral disaster. Personally I would certainly trust Kirsty to do an excellent job.

  • Richard Underhill 20th May '16 - 8:01am

    http://www.open.ac.uk/wales/sites/www.open.ac.uk.wales/files/files/ecms/wales-pa/web-content/Diamond-Review-English.pdf
    “No AV referendum or other banana skins here”??? AV had been rejected by Paddy Ashdown. That referendum was not a bridge too far, it was not far enough.
    Will the Labour Party in Wales be having a special conference?

  • The difficulty we seem to face when going into coalition is that over the years Liberal Democracy has never seemed to prosper after we have been in coalition. In Scotland we had 17 MSPs in 1999; 17 in 2003 when we were in coalition with Labour. We refused to join with the SNP in 2007 (apparently over their insistence on having an independence referendum, a policy we had previously supported) and of course we were decimated four years later, but a significant reason for that was our performance in the coalition in Westminster. In Wales

    Likewise in Wales we entered coalition with Labour in 1999 when we had 6 AMs; we won 6 seats again in 2003 but Labour had exactly half of the AMs and so dropped us, 6 again in 2007 after which we went down to five in 2011.

    So in each case, a relatively successful period in coalition, which was not reflected in any electoral reward or progress whatsoever.

    The third example, of course was the UK coalition in 2010, which was quite simply a disaster for the future of Liberal Democracy as a political force in National politics.

    So overall our experience of coalition has been two successful periods in coalition where we implemented a lot of good things, but where we progressed not one iota in electoral terms, and one disaster where we were nearly destroyed. The lack of electoral reward after periods of success is particularly concerning; as it does lead to the question, what do we need to do our voters (and potential voters) want us to do in coalition? In particular we need to answer the question, what do we need to do to persuade more of them to vote for us in future so we can progress as a party, with the ultimate aim of forming a government of our own at some time in the future.

  • David Evans. As always you ask the right questions. My regret is that we went into coalition in 2010, I supported it but I was wrong. With hindsight we should have faced a second election that November and taken the hit, maybe 20 seats down, much better than what happened all for the sake of one or two Lib Dem policies and Tuition fees. Still that is history. We MUST not repeat that in Wales when we only have 1 Assembly MP. Stay out maintain independence then a chance of recovery.
    Caron you do not seem to get it. “We did a great job in government”. So what if in the end it albut destroys you. You have have a long long path back, one that we would not have needed.

  • As a Welsh member, I do have significant reservations about this. The Welsh Labour Government has been failing across the board for years – in health, education, the economy, transport etc. I am concerned – despite how able Kirsty is – that there are so many skeletons in the cupboard that we will be overwhelmed by the work that may be entailed. For example, dealing with the international pisa tests later this year, the ticking time bomb over student tuition fees and the funding of the Welsh HE sector, school closures particularly in rural areas and dire state of school buildings. Remember also after the recent results – we do not have the Party infrastructure or mass – to support her. It is a time when we should stand back.

  • Joe, Please don’t go back to the “grown up politics” slogan again. It still has connotations of the leader knows best and it is for the rest to follow obediently. As I explained earlier, that is a recipe for disaster when things start to go wrong.

  • Joe Otten, really, the grown up decision is to learn from OUR mistakes and for the Welsh Lib dems to stay independent. That way there is a much quicker opportunity to, what are the words, “fight back”.

  • This is not going to work is it ? Why is she doing it ? I thought that the Labour Party had reached an agreement with Plaid Cymru in order to remain in office.

  • Margaret Gray 20th May '16 - 1:08pm

    I see no-one is allowed to disagree with the majority view, but I actually delivered leaflets and manned the polling stations for Kirsty in this election and I believe it is very much the wrong move to join a Welsh Labour government as one person against 29. What has been offered is not greatly different to Labour’s manifesto (as with the “concessions” to Plaid). Welsh education is not in good heart and Labour is likely to smear liberals with any cuts or failures, just as the Tories did. This certainly demotivates me as a lowly activist and I suspect will do the same to many and to those voters who believed our squeeze leaflets against Labour. I think it risks bringing the party into disreputre in Wales, as it has in England – if you disagree look at our numbers of MPs.

  • Labour rehearsing how to make a deal with Nats and Liberals work in order to make sure the Tories aren’t in government when there’s next a hung parliament? Looks like a dry run for 2020 or 2025 in Westminster…

  • Matt (Bristol) 20th May '16 - 1:23pm

    The possibility of seeing Wales implement more LibDemmish policies on education is tempting – but will we end up just pilotting future policy development for Labour?

    The other problem is that with Plaid in its ‘semi-supportive’ position of not being in the government, agreeing to vote through the First minister but not being formally signed up to not vote the government down, this is worse in some senses than a two-party coalition.

    Plaid and Labour could consciously or unconsciously ‘gang up’ to pass the buck for any problems (particularly around the specific education brief) onto the LibDems, and the Tories and UKIP won’t mind helping.

    LibDems need to be ready to stand by for blame-based attacks from right and left, if the government doesn’t hold steady.

  • Margaret Gray 20th May '16 - 2:00pm

    Entirely agree Matt and see my earlier comment. Welsh Labour are no more nice and collaborative than the Tories in their heartlands and see what happened there. Kirsty will be landed with an impossible job, for which they will blame haer, and just wait for next election. I was against the original coalition for that reason and where now are all the MPs we had in 2010?

  • Matt (Bristol) 20th May '16 - 2:36pm

    Margaret,

    I think whether those risks are worth taking is for the Welsh party to decide… I hope they do a thorough risk-assessment, though.

  • Margaret Gray 20th May '16 - 3:46pm

    I’m a member of the Welsh party but as the special conference was arranged at 1 day’s notice I can’t get to it. If the risk assessment they do is as good as the one they did for the Tory coalition……

  • going to be great conference..will it be streamed

  • Richard Underhill 20th May '16 - 6:30pm

    In 1940 the Liberal leader took the Air Ministry, although constantly criticised by the Minister for Aircraft Production. The S of S for Defence was also Prime Minister.

  • This strikes me as a much more sensible form of power-sharing, as Kirsty is the Minister for Education, not the second in command of a Labour minister. Unlike the previous national coalition, where the lib Dems were deputies to the Conservatives in every Ministry except Energy and Business.

  • Having read Kirsty’s letter to the Welsh party, I am more worried because it is making several of the mistakes we allowed Nick to make in 2010. This includes “bouncing the party into voting yes” by making an announcement after accepting the offer (Can you imagine the headlines if the Welsh Lib Dems voted down the proposal?); Emphasising the reponsibilities (which are huge) while not mentioning in the letter (or apparently getting) any guarantee of getting the funding to deliver the infant class size commitment etc etc.

    It may well work out, but it really does leave Kirsty as a hostage to fortune if Labour find things getting a bit tough and decide to put the cuts on her budget. If I remember correctly the Lib Dems, under Mike German, entered a coalition with Labour in the assembly between 2000 and 2003. At some stage, Labour refused to stick to some aspect of the agreement, and the Lib Dems didn’t have the courage to face them down and walk out. Perhaps someone will remember the detail.

    Kirsty needs to remember this as it seems we have learned little from past coalitions about managing the downside risks, other than to trust in our partners and hope for the best.

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