The Talking Point #25: Carwyn’s announcement is just the beginning

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

The biggest talking point from last week’s Welsh Labour conference in Llandudno was, of course, the First Minister’s announcement that he intended to stand down in the autumn.

The only surprise is that many were surprised. There was an expectation he would stand down by or in 2019 anyway. The timetable’s just got a bit shorter, that’s all.

There’ll be enough time for political eulogies, a reflection on his tenure and alike closer to his departure date – and it’s not as if he’s going anywhere for the time being.

Putting himself in control of his own exit means that regardless of the outcome of the final remaining inquiry into the Carl Sargeant affair, Carwyn’s unlikely to face the indignity of a no-confidence vote (which was probably becoming an option after last week).

Attentions now turn to who might be in the running to succeed him as Welsh Labour leader and First Minister as well as, more importantly (more at Nation.Cymru), how that successor will be elected.

Carolyn Harris MP’s victory over Julie Morgan AM (Lab, Cardiff North) in the deputy leadership contest via the electoral college method – despite the latter winning the total votes cast – means the introduction of “One Member One Vote” (OMOV) will be discussed again with more urgency.

That could have a direct impact on who succeeds Carwyn as it’s assumed candidates on the left, buoyed by enthusiastic grassroots members, are more likely to benefit from OMOV that the more careerist, centrist, schmoozer types with close ties to Labour’s political elite and the trade union hierarchy – more here.

Once the leadership contest has formally started and a shortlist of candidates is known I’ll go into this in more detail. For the time being, here’s who I think will be on “the long list”.

There can only be a maximum of four/five candidates anyway. As Vaughan Roderick explained last week, a leadership candidate needs 20% of the Labour Assembly group (5-6 AMs) to back them, so I doubt more than three will go to the final vote in the end.

The Front Runners

  • Mark Drakeford AM (Lab, Cardiff West) – At present the Finance (and de facto Brexit) Secretary is the only confirmed candidate, overall favourite and the favourite of the Corbynites. He’s easily one of the most intelligent AMs we’ve ever had, but an unspectacular stint as Health Secretary, failure to get a grip on local government reform work and coming close to losing his seat in 2016 work against him.
  • Ken Skates AM (Lab, Clwyd South) – A “business as usual” technocrat from the mainstream wing of the party. Clearly wants the job and has done for some time. Knows what to say and how to say it and would definitely “wind The Nats up”, which might make it more difficult for him to work with the opposition in future.
  • Vaughan Gething AM (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) – The present Health Secretary who’s done reasonably well in the Cabinet’s toughest job. He’s certainly one of the few front bench Labour AMs you could envisage as First Minister due to his confidence in the chamber; there are signs though that NHS performance figures are on the slide again and that’s been the death knell for many a ambitious AM.
  • Eluned Morgan AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) – Has had a relatively quiet start to her time in the Senedd but has extensive and under-utilised political and business experience. The fact she’s a peer and a regional AM (regional votes being notoriously volatile) may work against her compared to candidates with a safe constituency seat.

Worth a Shout

  • Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) – An unknown quantity at the moment in terms of devolved politics, but ticks the boxes by having a very safe seat, extensive government/parliamentary experience and a certain level of charisma. Darkhorse.
  • Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) – A pulpit-thumping public speaker, but something of a controversial figure due to his past behaviour and decisions, plus he doesn’t have a watertight safe seat anymore.
  • Jeremy Miles AM (Lab, Neath) – The current Counsel General and one of the new intake from 2016. Recently set out his own vision for Wales, which was quite First Ministerial – however, his relative anonymity (for the time being) might make going for the top job so quickly a step too far.

Long Shots

  • Lesley Griffiths AM (Lab, Wrexham) – Not being talked about as a candidate and will probably back Ken Skates’ bid, but is one of the most politically experienced members of the Cabinet; perhaps too much baggage from her relatively disastrous time as Health Secretary, but has rescued her reputation since then and is now something approaching a safe pair of hands.
  • Rebecca Evans AM (Lab, Gower) –Might be too soon, but I’m surprised she hasn’t been mentioned. Has performed relatively well in her government roles to date but perhaps plays it safe too much. A big promotion in exchange for her support is more likely at this time.
  • Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli) – If he wants to make a step up he might want a Cabinet role (which seems inevitable at some point) beforehand, but his statement on wanting a wider pool of candidates could be himself dropping hints. He’s a long-term thinker and can be an effective communicator, though he’s made some odd decisions since becoming an AM.

Just to be mischievous, the First Minister merely has to have the confidence of the Assembly, not be the leader of the largest party. Kirsty Williams or DET for First Minister, anyone?

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