David Cameron and Nick Clegg back-patted each other on the steps of Downing St yesterday like two friendly silverback gorillas who have decided to share their supply of bananas.
Each delighted man seemed quite startled as they stepped across the threshold of a new era. But these two chaps are not the only people changing the shape of the United Kingdom. Red water could be about to gush between England and Wales.
Carwyn Jones woke up yesterday morning as the most senior elected figure in the Labour movement. This is arguably a moment of liberation for the Welsh left.
Deviations from London policy will not be greeted with a raised eyebrow. No-one will expect Labour and Plaid Cymru to pursue similar policies in the Assembly Government to those charted by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
Rhodri Morgan’s vision of Wales as one of devolution’s laboratories where progressive policies can be tested has taken a leap forward. This is happening, of course, just as the cash dries up – but in the next 12 months we will see what Carwynism looks like.
When the Queen tours the UK she will now meet ministers of every political stripe; the SNP will welcome her to Scotland and in Northern Ireland she has a Government with a wider variety of pedigrees than she would find even in her own stables.
The pluralism which now defines UK democracy points to the revolution Tony Blair unleashed when he let the genie of devolution out of the bottle. The New Britain he envisaged may not have involved two non-Labour descendants of aristocrats taking the reins of Government, but there is a radical diversity within the country; power is not so much shared as scattered.
What we may now see revealed is the great secret at the heart of Westminster politics. We have had coalition Government for decades.
Labour and the Conservatives were gatherings of different clans in two sprawling tribes. Ken Livingstone and Mr Blair found a home in the same party, as did Kenneth Clarke and John Redwood.
Cameron’s modernising clan had been under sporadic fire from the right in the days after the election but now they have been joined by liberal reinforcements.
Europhile libertarian Tories may often find they have more in common with their new coalition colleagues than fellow Conservatives who long for a return of Thatcherism.
Equally, social democrats in Nick Clegg’s party – some of whom are descendants of the 1981 Labour split which led to the formation of the SDP – may wonder if their true brethren are those led by Gordon Brown’s successor.
And all those who instinctively lean to the left will often glance at Wales as two parties which draw on socialist values strive to steer a nation of three million through the turbulent but fascinating months ahead.
Originally a Thursday column.
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