Is Plaid Cymru about to see a high profile defection to Welsh Labour and hand Carwyn Jones an outright majority?
The questions began to be raised on Wednesday.
With all three opposition parties in Wales having tabled a vote of no confidence in health minister Lesley Griffiths over allegations about the extent to which she may or may not have interfered with an independent report on the NHS.
With business managers in the Assembly making quite clear that all their AMs needed to turn up to vote, one, the former Plaid Cymru leader and Assembly presiding officer, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, opted not to attend stating that he had graduation duties to attend to as chancellor of Bangor University. Sounds reasonable so far.
But here comes the sting. Turning his attention to the way his party leadership had handled the no confidence motion, Elis-Thomas was pretty blatant in his criticism. The BBC’s Wales political editor, Betsan Powys, quotes him as having said:
“I think Plaid has put itself in a position of being the supporting cast to a play which is produced by the Welsh Conservatives and that gets under my skin … This whole debate that’s taking place this afternoon is a debate which puts prejudice before evidence and I don’t want to be part of such discussions.”
“In his interview in Welsh he compares to his colleagues to “poodles” (cwn bach) who are playing “second fiddle” (ail feiolin) to the Tories.”
His no show resulted in the no-confidence motion being lost by 29 votes to 28, and led the party to withdraw the whip from its former leader pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing.
Whilst the party’s leader, Leanne Wood remained tight lipped over the developments yesterday, Elis Thomas’ constituency party were more ready to talk. In a statement reacting to the decision to withdraw the Whip, Lis Pugh, chair of Plaid’s Dwyfor Meirionnydd Constituency Committee said:
“In a meeting of the Plaid Cymru Dwyfor Meirionnydd Constituency Committee on Thursday 19 July, a motion was passed nem con that we state our full support for our Assembly Member, Dafydd Elis-Thomas.
“The Committee is also totally committed to the task of realising Plaid Cymru’s ambition of moving Wales on and ensure a more and confident future for our nation.
“We believe that matters of conscience should always have priority over multi-party matters and we call on the Plaid Cymru group in the National Assembly to promote a positive agenda.”
But does all this suggest that Elis-Thomas is preparing to jump ship and provide Labour with the extra seat it needs to enjoy an outright majority in the Assembly?
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In April, one “senior Labour” source hinted at the possibility after Leanne Wood had effectively demoted the former presiding officer by stripping him of responsibilities as Plaid’s environment spokesperson. And now, following events over the past few days, just one look at responses from both Labour and Elis-Thomas does nothing to dampen the potential for a defection.
Speaking during his monthly press conference yesterday, first minister Carwyn Jones said in response to questioning on the issue:
“At the moment Dafydd Elis-Thomas is a member of Plaid Cymru. It’s an internal matter for them. We would welcome anybody who shares the same values as us. He’s somebody I believe holds the interest of the people of Wales at heart.
“Dafydd Elis-Thomas is somebody who is progressive in terms of his politics and thinks of fairness and justice. But we’ve had no discussions with him.”
An in almost an echo of what the first minister said, Elis-Thomas yesterday sought to emphasis in no uncertain terms the need for progressives and the left to work more closely together against the Conservatives. He told the Western Mail:
“I am very anxious that the forces of the left should work together in the interests of Wales and in particular to develop a system of health care suitable for the 21st Century.”
“I’m a member of Plaid Cymru and have been since 1962. What I want to see is the progressive forces of Wales linked up to develop prosperity.
“I have a strong antipathy to the campaign run by the Welsh Conservatives in the North against the need to reconfigure health services up here. This campaign is not in the interests of the wider health service at all.
“This whole episode has been Tory-led. I didn’t join Plaid Cymru to be a junior opposition party under the Tories in the Welsh Senedd. Our duty should at all times if possible be to support the left of centre Government of Wales in order to deliver social improvements.
“I have campaigned at every election since devolution against the Conservatives. Now, under the new leadership, I find that in opposition we are playing a junior role to the Conservative Party in terms of harassing a Welsh government which is dealing with the consequences of cuts imposed by a Conservative-led government in Westminster. It’s bizarre.”
In her blog, the BBC’s Betsan Powys quotes a statement from the bookmakers, Paddy power as saying:
“Our trading department has informed me that we can offer 4/1 on your selection ‘Dafydd Elis-Thomas to publicly announce a defection to the Labour Party in 2012′.”