Welsh coalitions, alpha males and simultaneous chess

Perhaps it's the time of year, but old double acts seem to be back in vogue.

Rhodri Morgan and Ieuan Wyn Jones resumed their 2007-09 partnership today in the House of Lords as this splendid photograph by ITV's Adrian Masters shows.

Messrs Morgan and Jones were invited to appear before the Lords constitution committee as part of its inquiry into "the constitutional implications of coalition government".

Rhodri Morgan is no stranger to members of the committee, which is chaired by Baroness (Margaret) Jay, whose own father, Jim Callaghan, led a Lib-Lab pact in the late 1970s. Former Welsh Secretary Lord Crickhowell is another member.

Lady Jay was keen to discover what lessons could be learns from the Welsh and Scottish experience of coalitions for Westminster where "we were making it up as we went along in 2010 and possibly continuing to do so in some respects".

Rhodri Morgan talked about the advice he received on coalition-building from Bertie Ahern in Ireland and Helen Clark in New Zealand: "We didn't worry about the rule book or Westminster precedent".

Lady Jay suggested it was easier because the Welsh government wasn't under as much scrutiny as Westminster - Mr Morgan told her it was easier because the Welsh government was a new body.

The former first minister said that had Labour been serious about holding on to power at Westminster - in coalition with the Lib Dems - after the 2010 election, Gordon Brown should have called Mr Morgan - and Scottish Labour leaders - "three wise Celts" for advice.

The then prime minister would not have liked the advice he would have received. "I would have told Gordon Brown," said Mr Morgan, "that he sadly had to go and that another Labour leader should be asked to take over. I think up here the difficulty was what the Lib Dems had actually said about going with the majority party, however small that majority might be, but then it's how you do negotiations.

"This is the point that I made in my written evidence about keeping the alpha males out of this because that's catastrophic, and it isn't the party leaders who should do the negotiation. It is people with an ability to set the past aside and to get very very non-tribal and to try to move on - and of course in the end you have to try to outbid whatever the Conservatives are saying. For instance, when it was becoming evident that the Conservatives were going to demand that the Lib Dems' famous commitment to the students to have no tuition fees.....now could Labour have outwitted them on that?

"In the end there are separate negotiations going - we had experience of that in 2007 exactly -and you have two lots of games of chess going on - and can you come up with a better offer?"

Lord Crickhowell recalled his long relationship with Rhodri Morgan, previously MP for Cardiff West and a firm opponent of the Cardiff Bay barrage: "In all my dealings with him he was the Welsh alpha male par excellence."

The peers asked about how the civil service handled coalition-building and government. Ieuan Wyn Jones recalled turning up to answer questions in the assembly only to find he had been supplied with the same answers given to his Labour predecessor.

Rhodri Morgan was surprised by the Westminster coalition's approach to collective responsibility. He "wouldn't have allowed or thought healthy" what he called the claiming of separate authorship of specific policies.

Both retired leaders thought it took longer to form a coalition than the "five days in May" the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats managed in 2010. Ieuan Wyn Jones said: "You're coming out of an election, it's raw, the emotion is raw you've been knocking six bells out of each other during the election and suddenly in a weekend you cobble up an agreement. I just find that a bit difficult."

Then the double act went their separate ways once more, but could they be seen again in the Lords? Lord Morgan of Michaelston-le-Pit? Ieuan Wyn Jones is the only living former Plaid Cymru leader yet to be given a peerage. Stranger things have happened, as Lords Kinnock and Elis-Thomas can testify.