In what was to be a formality this afternoon to swear in the First Minister, Carwyn put himself forward to lead a minority Labour government. But the chamber had a bit of a surprise. He found that Plaid had hatched a deal with UKIP and the Tories to oppose the conferment. The result was a tie, 29 votes for Carwyn, and 29 votes for Leanne. That's right, the "socialist" leader of Plaid Cymru came within an inch of taking power at the head of a green/blue/purple coalition. Let that sink in for a moment. An arrangement with the Tories, who Leanne has repeatedly (and rightly) criticised for their attacks on our people, and their indifferent dithering over Port Talbot. And an association with UKIP, who previously Plaid had denounced as a party "based on division and the scapegoating of vulnerable people", and whose leader was attacked as "the voice of the far right". And yet, here Leanne is, breaking bread with Welsh UKIP leader Neil Hamilton (Neil Hamilton!), Mark Reckless, and five other purple people bleaters. We all know about the lion lying with the lamb, but Plaid blocking with the most vociferous opponents of anything faintly whiffing of progressive politics?
Let's give PC the chance to explain themselves. According to the BBC, Plaid maintain that this afternoon's shenanigans are all Labour's fault (of course). Because the majority of the Welsh electorate didn't vote for Labour, then it's rather presumptive of the party to try and govern alone. It should have reached out to others in the chamber (i.e. them) to reach some accommodation instead of rushing ahead with the re-election of First Minister. There is a point here. After all, coming to an understanding with Plaid wouldn't be the first time Labour have struck a deal with them. Then again, Labour could (and should) counter that there are pressing problems, not least with steel, which require decisive leadership seeing as the UK government is refusing to provide any. And so we have deadlock. 30 for Plaid's coalition of the unhinged, and 30 for Labour and the single LibDem, Kirsty Williams (in a rare principled move for them, the yellow party refuse to treat with UKIP). And if this situation persists into the beginning of June, the Assembly will be dissolved and a fresh round of elections called.
Plaid's behaviour might seem bewildering, but it isn't really. It's a political party like any other, and all parties have the propensity to maximise opportunities for office. It's rare, I'm afraid to say, for principles to prove an obstacle. The LibDems here are a rare instance. Labour isn't supposed to cut deals with Tories, but that has occasionally happened in some open (and not-so-open) coalitions in various local authorities. The PLP also collaborates with backbench Tories over matters of mutual interest. There are, however, limits. Labour would never deal with UKIP, and studiously avoids high profile associations with Conservatives. That particular lesson has finally been learned thanks to Scotland.
The second, however, goes right to the heard of Plaid's political DNA. It is a nationalist party whose raison d'etre is an independent Wales. It might not talk about it much as the eventuality is as likely as a hyperbole-free public debate about Israel, but it's there. That's the party's axis in the same way class is for Labour and the Tories - as much as some in each would pretend (and prefer) it was otherwise. All nationalist movements and parties have their own lefts and rights, and presently the social democratic wing in Plaid (and the SNP) have their respective organisations locked down. The material roots of this situation lie in positioning themselves over a long period of opposition against Labour, and traction was achieved when colourless (neoliberal) managerialism ruled the Blairist/Brownite roost and continued under the blessed Ed. But ultimately, this is always and everywhere subordinate to the aim of national independence. Sometimes, at least theoretically, a national separatist project can serve progressive politics - especially where the denial of national rights is sowing division and poisoning the body politic. And yet, history has always shown that when it comes to the crunch, even when independence is on the side of right, class politics is subordinated to national politics with greater or lesser degrees of violence. While no one's seriously suggesting a bloody resolution to this in Plaid, the different basis of the party always puts its commitment to social democratic politics into question, as well as its availability to make deals with the most backward and dangerous forces in Britain.
What game is Leanne Wood and Plaid playing at? Nationalist politics.