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Page last updated at 15:23 GMT, Friday, 7 May 2010 16:23 UK

Lessons from Wales on coalition government

National Assembly for Wales
The Welsh assembly has seen two coalitions in 10 years - first between Labour and Liberal Democrats, and then Labour and Plaid Cymru

By Darren Waters
BBC News

As the UK comes to term with the first hung parliament since 1974, lessons could be learned from the Welsh assembly's experience of coalition government since 2000.

Coalition government may be a novelty for most of the electorate in the UK, but for voters in Wales it has been part of the political landscape for most of the time since the first assembly election in 1999.

Labour was forced into coalition with the Liberal Democrats after struggling with minority government.

The two parties shared power, including ministerial appointments, until the 2003 election, when Labour gained a one-seat majority.

But Labour was forced into a coalition again, in 2007, this time with traditional rivals Plaid Cymru, an alliance which still governs.

Rhodri Morgan
We had time to be patient but we did not have financial responsibilities nor was there a raging financial firestorm
Former First Minister Rhodri Morgan on his coalition talks

Rhodri Morgan, who was first minister from 2000 - 2009, said discussions to form a coalition could be difficult and taking advice was crucial.

"There will be a lot of ripping up the Westminster rule book in facing this unprecedented situation," he said.

"Obviously David Cameron is in pole position. But unless he can do some sort of deal with the Liberal Democrats or others to get a Queen's Speech through I don't think he can form a sustainable government, which is desperately needed because of the financial firestorm in the markets."

He said forming a coalition meant allowing civil servant to guide parties even if it meant a party was in discussions with more than one potential partner.

'Heart attack'

"It took us two months. I finished up having a heart attack so it's very stressful, clearly.

"But we got there in the end. And we had time to be patient but we did not have financial responsibilities nor was there a raging financial firestorm."

Former Welsh Lib Dem leader Mike German said any discussion had to "start with policy principles".

Mr German, who was involved in coalition negotiations in 2000 and 2007, said: "You need to examine the commitments you have made in the manifesto and see on what basis there may be for a route through those policies for both sides."

Carwyn Jones
It is absolutely essential to have in place a detailed agreement with agreed objectives
First Minister Carwyn Jones

While much discussion will centre on who the next prime minister will be, and who will be the members of his cabinet, Mr German said these talks must wait.

"The last thing to discuss is the nature of the coalition or its shape," he said. "I would counsel the participants to examine the policy platform first."

Current First Minister Carwyn Jones said the existing coalition was "working very well", and its success was founded on a coalition agreement secured at the start of negotiations.

'Tightly drawn'

"It is absolutely essential to have in place a detailed agreement with agreed objectives so there can be no room for disagreement further on down the line; something that is very tightly drawn and something that lasts for a defined period of time.

"If you do that, as we've shown here, it is possible to have a very stable government."

Mr Jones said it was important that parties did not "rush into anything".

He said: "What we found here when we set up the coalition in 2007 is that there were a number of possible permutations that were looked at.

"On the other hand I think it is important to say don't take too long; a week or a fortnight is enough in order to get a new government in place."

Mr German agreed, saying that while the electorate needed to show patience, negotiations should not go on too long.

"The lessons from 2007 is you do need to put a time frame on the discussions," he said.

The Liberal Democrats are widely seen to have missed an opportunity in 2007 to form a government with Labour, leaving Plaid Cymru as the party to share rule.

Mr German said: "Nick Clegg is absolutely right to say that any coalition is with the party with the clearest mandate.

"The ball lies firmly with David Cameron to come up with some proposals."

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