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19 May 2016

A stuttering start for the new Assembly

A stuttering start for the new Assembly

As the final results of the fifth National Assembly for Wales elections filtered through on the morning of Friday 6 May for the regional seats for Mid & West Wales, it seemed that the polls, at least on this occasion, had got it right. Labour were once again confirmed as the largest party in the Assembly with 29 seats, one down on last term and two short of a workable majority. Their effectiveness as a political machine was noted as they saw almost the same number of AMs returned as in the 4th Assembly despite a declining share of the overall vote (7% down).  

Plaid Cymru are now the official opposition, up one seat to 12 and with leader Leanne Wood sensationally winning Rhondda and ousting Labour veteran Leighton Andrews. It was a disappointing night for the Conservatives however, down three seats to 11, who held onto their constituency seats but did not capture any of their target seats. The Lib Dems are down to one solitary seat, but party leader Kirsty Williams in being returned for the fifth time saw her majority trebled to 8,170. UKIP are the new kids on the block and have entered the Assembly in remarkable fashion, winning seven of the 20 regional seats around Wales.   

Debate in this fifth Assembly will be enriched by the presence of former Parliamentarians Huw Irranca-Davies (Labour), Adam Price (Plaid) and Neil Hamilton (UKIP) and with MEPs past (Labour's Eluned Morgan) and present (UKIP's Nathan Gill) also bringing fresh perspectives gleaned from their experience of working with European institutions.  

It will be interesting to see how faith is played out among AMs in this new Assembly. There are AMs with a strong Christian faith, including Plaid Cymru's Dai Lloyd who returns to Cardiff Bay after a five year absence, while Nathan Gill of UKIP is a practicing Mormon, a first for the Assembly. It is hoped that a culture will develop in this Assembly that will allow for AMs to be able to express their faith without fearing ridicule. 

The first week was a baptism of fire for the new AMs as the re-nomination of Carwyn Jones as First Minister, expected to be a formality, was anything but. Plaid challenged this – in what was widely seen as a shot across the bows to signal to Labour to treat them with proper respect - and put forward their leader Leanne Wood, who received backing from all of the Plaid, Conservative and UKIP AMs, resulting in a 29-29 deadlock (the Presiding Officer and Deputy Presiding Officer were unable to vote). Extensive negotiations took place between Labour and Plaid in the days that followed and this enabled Carwyn Jones to be re-installed as First Minister, with Leanne Wood's name being withdrawn.

The First Minister has stated that there will be no new legislation brought forward for the first three months of the Assembly term, allowing time for political parties to "jointly develop a scrutiny and committee procedure" that is will better suit the Senedd. A criticism of the last Assembly was that there was not more robust scrutiny of Labour's programme for government. Priorities for this term will be those issues that enjoy cross-party support.