Wales was left without a functioning government on Wednesday after Labour failed to get Carwyn Jones, its leader, re-elected as first minister.
The administration in Cardiff Bay was left in limbo after Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and the UK Independence party joined forces against Labour, the largest party in the Welsh assembly, in one of the most unlikely coalitions in modern Britain.
The scene was set last Thursday in the assembly elections, when Labour went from 30 seats to 29 — out of 60 — in the devolved administration.
Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, received 29 votes from three parties, creating a dead heat with Mr Jones, who has been first minister since 2009. The presiding officer and a deputy do not vote.
Plaid, the Welsh nationalist party, sought to govern despite only having 12 seats in the assembly. “We would have run a minority government with only Plaid Cymru ministers, getting support from other parties on a vote-by-vote basis,” said one party official.
Plaid supporters may well feel uneasy about their party joining forces with Ukip, which won seven seats last week and which has picked Neil Hamilton, a disgraced former Tory MP, as its Welsh leader.
Alun Davies, a Labour assembly member, said voters would never trust the Welsh nationalists again. “Plaid Cymru have just fought an election campaign spending eight weeks saying they would never do a deal with Ukip or the Tories,” he said. “They referred to Ukip as the ‘far right’ — and yet today we have seen them stitching up a deal to try and form a government.”
The Liberal Democrats lent their support to Labour but with only one representative, Kirsty Williams — having lost four assembly members last week — it was not enough to tilt the balance. Had Ms Williams voted with the other three parties it would have led to Ms Wood becoming first minister. “I was not re-elected to support a ragtag coalition,” said Ms Williams, observing that Labour had the “strongest mandate” of all.
The disparate groups will meet for more talks next week with just 23 days to find a solution. If a deal is not struck by June 1 then a second set of elections will have to be held.
Officials in the assembly are now consulting its rule book to work out the protocol for what happens next.
A spokesman for Plaid said that Welsh voters had chosen not to elect one single party to govern Wales with a majority.
“As is the convention, the biggest party were given an opportunity to reach an agreement on forming a government which could lead Wales with the support of the majority of members in the national assembly,” he said. “They took the decision not to pursue that option, and were not prepared to give the process of negotiation any further time.”