Y Barcud Oren #8

Forever delayed but back at last in the wake of the most important Wednesday of the Welsh political year (and I’m not referring to Lembit’s council tax summons…)

Here’s Your Starter For Spring, All Conferring

The Assembly has of course been off on recess, which gave everyone time to get through the rest of spring conference season. Having survived Tory attempts to Welshify themselves at a cricket ground and Plaid’s efforts to cast off the cottage burning we were first to the plate in the second half.

The result was record turnout for a Welsh Lib Dem conference, a jam-packed policy agenda, a great Q&A session with both our leaders and a typically firebrand keynote speech from the leader herself. The press coverage was similarly upbeat and there’s plenty of reaction from the blogosphere to get your teeth into here, here, here, and here.

But one thing that sticks uppermost in my mind is that I spent a goodly chunk of Saturday night in the bar talking to the executive member for education – in Blaenau Gwent. So don’t tell me we haven’t grown and don’t matter outside Mid Wales and the cities…

And then it was Labour’s turn, closing things off in Swansea with not so much a conference as a leaving do in the staff canteen. With Rhodri heading towards voluntary retirement and Labour generally hurtling towards involuntary booting out on their arses, they had little option but to mutter, mutter against the dying of the light. Paul Murphy did his best “You’re Welsh, You’ll Vote Labour” routine, but the BBC’s sermon metaphor rather hit the nail on the head of that one.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Get Out Of The Cock-Up

Meanwhile, the Welsh Assembly Government’s tuition fees policy was rapidly leaving behind the cynghanedd and acquainting itself with the Icelandic Sagas.

For starters, John Dixon decided that expelling 17-year-old Arianwen Caiach-Taylor for dissent was not vengeance enough and set about pursuing her mother too. Sian Caiach, a former NHS whistleblower, twice Plaid parliamentary candidate and current Plaid councillor in Carmarthenshire, found herself accused of pretty much every Plaid leak for the last three years. That accusation was of course somewhat dented by The Western Mail stating directly beneath those accusations that Cllr Caiach wasn’t the leak

The new media then took over the story as The Next Leader Of Plaid Cymru™ walked into an elephant trap of Borisian proportions. Post-conference, the blogosphere had been engrossed in a debate about astroturfing by Plaid staff writing anonymous blogs ignited by a Freedom Central piece from Peter Black, a debate largely predicated on the inability of Plaid members to understand the meaning of the word anonymous.

In the midst of all this, Adam Price was sufficiently irked by Peter’s own blog – pointing out that it was pretty ridiculous for Plaid (of all parties) to suggest that the best way to get Wales out of recession was to go cap in hand to Westminster – that he launched into a full-throated… explanation of why his party are sufficiently stupid as to think that junior coalition partners don’t matter.

Which was fine, except that Freedom Central had just discovered by way of FOI that, while Adam had talked the talk on fees, threatening judicial review no less, his official contribution as a Member of Parliament had been, well, naff all. Adam invoked the astroturfing row in his defence, but wasn’t able to muster any factual answer beyond a protestation that he’d spoken to Plaid’s special adviser (something that is somewhat less convincing when it appears in paragraph seven, while an impassioned defence of that special adviser in his previous life as MP for Ceredigion appears in paragraph one…)

By this point, however, it was clear that the incompetency pact has kicked in and that Labour had to do something monumentally dumb to take the heat off their coalition partners.

Carwyn Jones, Leader Of The House and front-runner to take over from Rhodri Morgan as Labour leader, was only too happy to oblige, telling the Assembly that the decision to make the announcement about tuition fees on March 18th had only been taken at 12:30pm on March 17th. Which was funny, given that official e-mails confirmed that, after some effort had been made to move the statement so it would fall after Plaid conference (and thus spare them the embarrassment of holding a conference at a University having just shafted all students everywhere) the date of the statement had been confirmed on March 10th. They say the devolved assemblies do things differently, but lying to the House is still lying to the House, so for one leadership candidate it rather looks like it might be man overboard…

The betrayal was finally completed on Wednesday. After Plaid and Labour were too gutless (that word again, Adam, happy now?) to have a vote on the whole shambles, the Liberal Democrats forced one themselves. To their credit, Leanne Wood and Bethan Jenkins backed up the rhetoric and voted against the government, but otherwise (apart from the notably absent Ieuan Wyn Jones) the coalition held firm.

And nothing touched me deep inside, the day Plaid Cymru died…

* Gareth Aubrey is a councillor in Cardiff and blogs at Long Despairing Young Something.

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