The Talking Point #15: Subtle moves made as Labour plan for post-Carwyn era

(Title Image: Wales Online)

Like all perishable goods, heads of government have a shelf life.

You’ll very rarely see heads of government in a democracy last longer than 8-10 years at the top. Those that do last longer are either highly exceptional individuals, kept in power by circumstance (such as coalition agreements, or by virtue of not having an obvious replacement) or are semi-dictatorial.

At some point, it all has to come to an end and Carwyn Jones is now well into that 8-10 year window.

His short-term (3-6 months) future hinges on the outcome of the Carl Sargeant investigations, but even if he’s found to be in the clear, the likelihood is he won’t be leading Wales for very long after Brexit in 2019 with an outside chance we could see a change in First Minister this year.

Moves have been made behind the scenes for some time. Economy Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), has been making an unofficial pitch for the job for a while by putting himself in leadership-like positions and publicly/physically distancing himself from the First Minister on occasion.

However, the first serious public declaration of intent in terms of standing in a future leadership contest have come from the Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West).

If there wasn’t some expectation of a leadership contest soon, it’s likely there wouldn’t have been a row over Welsh Labour’s decision to keep the electoral college system (where paid members, elected representatives and trade union votes all carry a third of the vote each) instead of switching to a “one member, one vote” (OMOV) system.

OMOV helped Jeremy Corbyn win back-to-back UK leadership elections in 2015 and 2016 because he was able to mobilise the grassroots and new membership via Momentum. As the Welsh Labour hierarchy is a bit more conservative and wants to be seen as “strong and steady” rather than radical or populist, it’s highly unlikely they would want to see a Corbynite Welsh Government.

4 Labour AMs – including Mark Drakeford – and several representatives from constituency parties attended a meeting a few weeks ago where they pressed for a full conference vote on a switch to OMOV in the Spring.

Retaining the electoral college makes Mark Drakeford’s (or another Corbynite’s) chances of winning a leadership election slimmer and hands advantage to a more centrist, middle-of-the-road candidate that Labour’s top-brass in Wales would find more palatable.

You can certainly argue it would be better for Wales to have a stable, dull, pragmatic government in place until after Brexit, but events – as we’ve seen over the last few months – have a habit of sneaking up on people when they least expect it, even in sleepy Wales.

  • 23