Wales politics

Lib Dem leader backs Kirsty Williams's cabinet post plan

Kirsty Williams

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has welcomed Kirsty Williams's plan to be education secretary in an otherwise all Labour Welsh Government.

Mr Farron said she would "retain her independence" and aim to make education in Wales "markedly better" then in the rest of the UK.

Ms Williams's appointment is subject to a vote of Welsh Lib Dem members at a special conference on Saturday.

She has said she is not taking party support on the matter for granted.

The AM for Brecon and Radnorshire, who boosted her majority over the Conservatives at the assembly election to more than 8,000, was named by First Minister Carwyn Jones on Thursday as part of an eight-member cabinet.

Speaking on BBC Radio Wales' Good Morning Wales programme on Friday, Mr Farron said Ms Williams's cabinet role would be "great news for education in Wales".

"Kirsty has that great strength of somebody with great experience of education, the mother of three children who are in Welsh state schools, and somebody who's very committed to making a difference."

Mr Farron said he was "very impressed" with the "hard achievements" the Liberal Democrats would get out of the agreement with Labour.

"But my aim is, and Kirsty's aim will be, that education in Wales will be markedly better than anywhere else in the United Kingdom because of Kirsty and the Liberal Democrats' involvement in this administration."

Image caption Tim Farron said running a government department was a great opportunity for the Lib Dems

Asked if she was confident of getting her party's support, the former Welsh Lib Dem leader said: "I never take anything for granted in politics.

"The great thing about being a member of the Welsh Liberal Democrats [is that] it's not up to individuals to make these choices.

"Every single member of our party will have an opportunity to have their say and have a vote on this decision."

'Influencing'

Ms Williams denied her appointment would effectively mean her party ceased to exist in the assembly.

"It exists with a cabinet minister, hopefully subject to the party agreement, being able to implement Welsh Liberal Democrat policies and influencing the agenda," she said.

"That's a lot stronger than being a single assembly member on a backbench."

Ms Williams said she would never leave her party, and did not think Labour, Plaid and the Welsh Liberal Democrats should merge or have a formal relationship.

"There are different traditions and political strands that are represented by each of the parties.

"What is important is that we look to work where we can together and recognise that the way in which politics happens in Wales is changing.

"It isn't about one single party driving home their manifesto without due reference to other voices."

Image copyright Wales news service
Image caption Kirsty Williams joins Labour ministers in Carwyn Jones' cabinet

The deal between Ms Williams and Labour agrees a list of nine common priorities which include pledges from the Welsh Lib Dem election manifesto, such as:

  • Limiting infant class sizes to a maximum of 25
  • "More nurses in more settings" through an extended nurse staffing levels law
  • Funding an extra 20,000 affordable homes
  • Ending mental health "discrimination"

It also calls for the upcoming recommendations of the Diamond Review into student finance to be considered "with a view to early implementation where appropriate" but with no "negative effect" on the higher education budget.

The Lib Dem tuition fee policy at the election was to end tuition fee support grants that students currently get. The party proposed to replace it with a student living support grant funded by the other grant's withdrawal - but this is not written into the agreement.

Ms Williams was the only opposition AM to back Mr Jones in the first deadlocked vote for first minister - despite Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and UKIP supporting Plaid leader Leanne Wood.

Mr Jones was later reinstated after he came to an agreement with Plaid Cymru - although no members of that party were appointed to his cabinet.

Image caption Neil Hamilton is urging Kirsty Williams to resign her seat and fight a by-election

Plaid Cymru AM Adam Price said it is unlikely all the policies in the agreement between Ms Williams and Welsh Labour will get support of parties outside the government.

He said on Twitter: "Important to note these policies will need opposition support to be implemented. Unlikely that all will succeed."

The senior Plaid figure also questioned the Lib Dems' pledge in the agreement to reduce infant class sizes to 25.

He said that "most evidence suggests you need to reduce to 15 to have any real effect. Reducing to 25 is costly but ineffective".

'Resign'

Meanwhile UKIP group leader Neil Hamilton said Ms Williams should resign her seat and seek a fresh mandate in a by-election.

He said: "When UKIP's Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless left their old parties, they did the honourable thing and went back to their electors at a by-election to seek a new mandate to represent them.

"Kirsty is now duty bound to support Labour 100% over this five-year assembly term.

"I call on her to take the same honourable course and seek a fresh mandate from her constituents because, in all but name, she has now become a Labour AM."

More on this story