Page last updated at 06:21 GMT, Thursday, 15 May 2008 07:21 UK

Independents rule Welsh councils

By Guto Thomas
BBC Wales political correspondent

Flintshire County Hall
An Independent coalition has taken over from Labour in Flintshire

More than a third of all Welsh local authorities will be led by independent councillors over the next four years.

Two weeks after polling day, coalition deals have been struck across Wales after only four councils were left with clear majorities for one party.

The Lib Dems will have the largest influence among the political parties, joining 13 administrations.

Labour will keep a position in running nine councils, Plaid Cymru will feature in eight and the Tories in seven.

This emerging picture of who controls councils in Wales is still in a state of flux, as final decisions will be made at a round of council meetings over the next few weeks.

The control of just one council, Torfaen, remains completely unknown, as negotiations between the political groups have so far failed to identify a potential leader or coalition.

Independent revolution

As well as having overall control in Powys and Pembrokeshire, the independents will also lead administrations in Blaenau Gwent, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Flintshire, Merthyr, Anglesey and probably Denbighshire.

But the additional appeal of this critical element in Welsh politics, means that they will also join coalitions as junior partners on seven other councils - which would take their overall tally at cabinet or board level to sixteen out of twenty two councils in Wales.

Yellow peril?

Having failed to win a clear majority to control any councils in Wales, and having the least number of councillors among the major political parties, the Liberal Democrats are now certain to emerge as the most successful of the big four in terms of securing power.

After strengthening their position in leading Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham, the Liberal Democrats have also managed to join boards or cabinets in 10 additional councils.

Given the party's track record in building up its political power base from local ward level in order to secure eventual success at assembly and Westminster elections, then this will send clear warning signals to the other parties ahead of the next general election.

WHO RUNS YOUR COUNCIL?
Blaenau Gwent: Independent led, with People's Voice and Liberal Democrats
Bridgend: Labour led, with three Ind
Caerphilly: Plaid Cymru led minority, with two Ind
Cardiff: Lib Dem led, with Plaid
Carmarthen: Ind led, with Lab and Lib Dem
Ceredigion: Ind led, with Lib Dem and Lab
Conwy: Plaid led, with Ind, Lab and Libl Dem
Denbighshire: Ind led, with Plaid, Lab, Lib Dem and Cons - TBC
Flintshire: Ind led, with Lib Dem and Conservatives
Gwynedd: Plaid led board - details TBC
Merthyr: Ind led board, with Lab and Libl Dem
Monmouth: Cons
Neath Port Talbot: Lab
Newport: TBC - possibly Cons led with Lib Dems
Pembrokeshire: Ind
Powys: Ind
Rhondda Cynon Taf: Lab
Swansea: Lib Dem led with Ind and Plaid
Torfaen: NOC - details TBC
Vale of Glamorgan: Cons
Wrexham: Lib Dem led board, with Ind, Cons and Plaid
Ynys Mon: Ind led, with Plaid, Lib Dem and Cons

Harsh realities

After a disastrous election result, losing control in many of their former strongholds, Labour will feel more than slightly relieved after negotiating its way to junior coalition roles in six local authorities, in addition to leading the council in Bridgend and maintaining a clear majority in Rhondda Cynon Taf and Neath Port Talbot.

But the remarkable decline in Labour's control of Welsh councils is likely to be exacerbated by the probable loss of the leadership of the Welsh Local Government Association.

The independents are in pole position to sweep away this final vestige of Labour's former power.

This situation - inconceivable just a few years ago - merely accentuates the conclusion that the Welsh political landscape now resembles the multicoloured rainbow of "coalition Cymru".

Hit and miss

For Plaid Cymru, the loss of majority control in Gwynedd has meant very little in terms of the political realities of leadership - with talks ongoing between all the political groups on the board regarding the allocation of portfolios and responsibilities.

The party has secured the leadership in Conwy in an anti-Tory coalition, while they're likely to have to plough ahead with a minority administration in Caerphilly after only gaining the support of a few independents.

However, the party's success in winning key seats in five other authorities - including Cardiff - means that they will have a say in the running of eight Welsh councils.

Friend or foe?

Having celebrated great success on election night itself - securing a majority in both Monmouth and the Vale of Glamorgan the Conservatives have largely failed to talk their way into power via coalition deals.

Despite becoming the largest party in councils such as Conwy and Denbighshire the other parties have preferred to shun Tory attempts to take control.

The party remains hopeful, however, of leading a potential administration with the Liberal Democrats in Newport, and will play a part in three or four other councils, taking their involvement in total to around seven councils in Wales.

Rumours are still circulating that the Tories could actually lead the council in Torfaen although there has also been talk of a reprise of the One Wales coalition in Cardiff Bay, by bringing the Labour party and Plaid Cymru together again.

And while both these scenarios sound positively bizarre, the experience of the last two weeks of coalition talks suggests that nothing can or indeed should be ruled out of the realms of Welsh political possibility.


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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