Page last updated at 17:49 GMT, Tuesday, 6 May 2008 18:49 UK

Coalition deals sideline Labour

By Guto Thomas
Political reporter

Flintshire County Hall
Parties are negotiating a non-Labour alliance in Flintshire

Plaid Cymru claims to be involved in coalition talks to run up to half of Wales' 22 county councils.

Parties are locked in talks after only four councils were left with clear majorities in the local elections.

After winning two councils, Conservatives are negotiating in half a dozen more, and Lib Dems hope to share the leadership in about 12 councils.

After decades of domination, emerging coalition deals could leave Labour frozen out in all but a few councils.

The seismic shift in the Welsh political landscape - from the red of socialism to the multicoloured rainbow of "coalition Cymru" - has been a gradual process, in which Labour's grip on power has slipped dramatically over the last decade.

Labour woes

After last week's elections, the party was left in control of just two councils across Wales - in Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Labour managed to win back lost ground in Bridgend, and is likely to secure the support of enough independents to form an administration, after four years of a rainbow alliance, led by the Liberal Democrats.

Elsewhere, Labour's worst case scenario would involve playing a bit part in running Conwy.

But even the most optimistic scenario, would only suggest the possibility of further deals in Flintshire, Merthyr or Newport - although sources suggest that Labour is in fact being frozen out of any such coalition options.

The idea that Labour may find itself in power in fewer than half a dozen councils can only be understood within the context of all the other negotiations under way.

Plaid Cymru is in pole position in Gwynedd, Caerphilly and Ceredigion, and has already struck a coalition deal in Anglesey with the Lib Dems, Conservatives and independents.

Plaid is also rumoured to be in sole negotiations with the Lib Dems in Cardiff, and looks set to play a part in running Conwy and Torfaen. Plaid could also end up sharing power in Wrexham and Flintshire - although its electoral success in Carmarthenshire looks unlikely to have any impact on the running of the council.

Power base

Having retained control of Monmouthshire and won the Vale of Glamorgan, the Conservatives have already extended their power base by joining a coalition to run Anglesey.

There are rumours circulating that the Tories will not only take part in, but could even lead the council in the most unlikely of locations - Torfaen.

As the largest party in Conwy, they may fail to secure control because of an anti-Tory alliance between all the other parties - with both Plaid and Labour highly unlikely to lend their support in such a key target seat in both assembly and parliamentary terms.

Tory power is also a possibility in Newport - although a coalition with the Lib Dems could prove difficult to broker, in the face of open historic hostility between both camps.

Negotiations are also ongoing with other parties in Flintshire and Wrexham.

Crucial influence

Despite being the smallest of the main political parties - with just 162 councillors - the Lib Dems' ability to win seats of strategic value could place them in the strongest position of all the parties, in terms of power-sharing in Welsh councils.

Coalition deals are thought to be imminent in both Cardiff and Swansea, while they have already formed part of the new administration in Anglesey.

The party looks set to lead a coalition in Wrexham, and could play a significant role in any anti-Labour alliance in Flintshire.

Having won a handful of seats in Blaenau Gwent, Conwy, Gwynedd and Torfaen, as well as a more significant presence in Merthyr, then their influence could be crucial.

Indeed, their presence could be of even more significance in both Ceredigion and Newport, where it is possible they could play major roles in any deals with their political opponents.

In this world of Welsh political uncertainty, any talk of swift resolutions in all 22 local authorities would be extremely unwise - with hardened observers of last year's twin-tracked coalition talks for control of the Welsh Assembly Government already anticipating having to wait a few weeks yet for the final result.


WELSH COUNCIL ELECTIONS 2008

  Councillors Councils
Party +/- Total +/- Total
LAB -124 342 -6 2
CON 63 174 1 2
PC 31 205 -1 0
LD 21 162 0 0
OTH 9 381 0 0
NOC - - 6 18
22 of 22 councils declared.

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