Maybe Not Quite the End of the World

Wales has inspired bursts of genius in artists as eclectic as impressionist Alfred Sisley and rock titans Led Zeppelin.

But now, as the most interesting UK election in more than a decade rounds into its final fortnight, are politicians drawing inspiration from this turf?

Last week started with Gordon Brown denying that he had worked to thwart a partnership with the Liberal Democrats in the early days of the Blair administration – and the Welsh television audience may have felt a ripple of deja vu.

Mr Brown told the ever-chipper Andrew Marr: “I think when the history books are written, they’ll say something different; that my conversations with Liberals have been an attempt to get them involved in what I call a progressive consensus.”

This was fascinating for pundits who look for signs of flirtation between the two parties with the same avid delight that a rom-com audience follows Jennifer Aniston’s perennial adventures of the heart.

But Mr Brown’s remark was especially interesting for anyone who remembers the sun-blasted days of drama in Cardiff Bay in 2007 when Labour leader Rhodri Morgan went in search of a coalition partner.

The May 2007 elections left him with the largest minority in the Assembly and on May 25 the Queen re-appointed him First Minister. In his acceptance speech he told the gathered AMs that “we shall seek to build on a progressive consensus”.

On May 31, as he unveiled his minority cabinet, he again pledged to build a “coherent, progressive consensus”.

And such a deal was struck with Plaid Cymru. When that party’s leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, stood up in plenary on July 11 as Deputy First Minister, he said the pact between the once warring rivals was “a new partnership based on the progressive traditions which have been at the heart of our nation’s politics for over a century”.

If, as some polls suggest, Labour emerges from next month’s election 59 or so seats short of an outright majority, could the Lib Dems be persuaded to play the role that Plaid has done in Wales with such gusto since 2007?

Last Tuesday, Mr Brown appealed for a “progressive alliance” of traditional Labour and Lib Dem voters who would stop a Tory victory.

His present priority must be preventing Nick Clegg’s party peeling away crucial votes in the predominantly urban areas where Labour needs to do well. But someone with an encyclopaedic knowledge of political history and such experience of playing the long game must also be wondering whether policy consensus could lead to a full-on alliance in parliament.

It would be no surprise if some night soon a phone rings in Michaelston-le-Pit and a former First Minister is asked for tips on building an unprecedented coalition.