The Talking Point #28: Should he stay or should he go now?

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

There’s no doubt that Carwyn Jones had given us plenty of warning as to when he intends to stand down as First Minister and – while it was predictable, though not openly spoken of – when he intends to stand down as AM for Bridgend too (in 2021).

While I suspect his suggestion there was “no unfinished business” in office was a joke at the media and opposition’s expense – I doubt he’s that blinkered – the relatively lengthy timetable of his departure has presented some problems.

By the looks of it, Carwyn is going to copy his predecessor and leave in December with his successor taking over in January 2019. The Welsh branch of Labour is also yet to discuss how his successor will be elected, with September mooted as a possible date for a decision.

As it’s going to be a while until that decision’s made, the internal row over whether one member, one vote (OMOV) or the current electoral college will be used threatens to drag on for several months. That would generate the sort of kinetic energy that could turn it into a deeper and nastier rift, when Labour in Wales have historically kept a tight lid on internal dissent (unlike Plaid Cymru).

Things haven’t been helped by Mike Hedges AM’s (Lab, Swansea East) recent suggestion that Carwyn’s successor as First Minister should make the final decision on whether to give the go-ahead to the M4 Newport bypass – with the findings of the public inquiry due to be published in the autumn. The First Minister has insisted he will make the decision – and as long as he’s in office you would expect that to be the case.

Mike is almost certain to remain in the Mark Drakeford camp, with the Finance Secretary – and only declared leadership candidate to date – recently expressing an open mind on whether to go ahead with the £1.4billion project. The official line from the Welsh Government has often been in favour, but it’s obviously dropping hints to the “green/sustainability” wing of the party that, if he were First Minister, Mark Drakeford might (but not necessariyl would) consider ditching it. To do that he would need to become First Minister by September.

This has played into the Conservatives’ hands, who are now portraying the First Minister as a “lame duck”, whose authority when it comes to making big decisions has waned since his announcement. They’re calling for the First Minister to go now. Although nobody in Plaid Cymru has said anything (AFAIK), I assume they wouldn’t mind an early contest either.

It’s probably nothing more than mischief-making, but at one level it would make some sense.

If the First Minister announced he would quit as Labour leader in Wales at the end of the 2017-18 Assembly session on July 23rd, it would give potential leadership candidates a few weeks to gather support, enable a short and snappy 6-8 week leadership campaign over the summer recess (where it’s unlikely there’ll be any other political story) and the new First Minister could take office when the Assembly returns on September 17th.

That might suit Mark Drakeford because he’s the only candidate at the moment who could guarantee the right number of AMs to support his bid. Other potential candidates are still holding their cards close to their chest and would be caught by surprise if the leadership election starts in July rather than October/November. It would force some scrambling and deals in dark corridors, but I’m sure Labour would be able to put up another 2 candidates at least.

It would, however, almost certainly mean the election being held under the current electoral college. In that context, an early contest might appeal to those in the professional/managerial stream of the party who perhaps have more support amongst the unions and politicians that grassroots members.

Either way, I suspect everyone has jumped the gun – but politics loathes a vacuum.

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