Carwyn quits – so what changes?

Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones. Picture by National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Ifan Morgan Jones

A shock resignation? Perhaps not – there had been rumblings for months that Carwyn Jones would step down as the First Minister.

He had been in post for almost a decade, had been battered politically since the death of Carl Sargeant in November, and had cut a defensive figure at recent First Minister’s Questions.

The surprise perhaps was that he had managed to keep the announcement at today’s Welsh Labour spring conference so tightly under wraps. People expected it at some point, but not today.

This announcement that he will be stepping down in the autumn is a big deal for us who follow Welsh politics very closely but, let’s face it, it is unlikely to register much beyond the Twitterati and seasoned Bay watchers.

The rest of Wales is out enjoying that rarest of things – a sunny weekend in Wales. I myself managed to miss the announcement for two hours because I was out with the kids.

So what difference will this announcement make to Welsh politics, apart from a change of personnel?

Probably not that much.

Status quo

Any hope that Welsh Labour would adopt a ‘One Member One Vote’ rule in Welsh leadership elections came to an end with the announcement that Carolyn Harris MP had beaten Julie Morgan AM to become the Deputy Leader.

Julie Morgan won almost double the number of member’s votes than Carolyn Harries, but lost out because MPs, AMs and MEPs, and affiliates such as unions get most of the say.

Adopting the same set of rules for the leadership contest means that the winner is likely to come from Labour’s center-left, rather than a hard-left Momentum-backed candidate in the Jeremy Corbyn mould.

Two of the current favourities for the post, Ken Skates and Vaughan Gething, are very much in the same centrist, technocratic mould as Carwyn Jones.

The compromise candidate might be Mark Drakeford, who is a Corbyn supporter but also a safe pair of hands, having been in the cabinet since 2013.

He is also 63 years old and so other, younger candidates could be happy to see him take the reigns for a few years, while knowing that he would be less likely to stick around for almost a decade like Rhodri Morgan and Carwyn Jones.

What effect is today’s announcement likely to have on Welsh Labour’s political fortunes? Not much, I don’t think.

Because of the weakness of Wales’ media compared to London’s, voters tend to know relatively little about Welsh politics compared to what’s going on at Westminster.

That means that even in Welsh Assembly Elections voters are likely to keep making their decision based on approval or disapproval of Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May.

Plaid Cymru, in particular, could spot an opportunity here as Leanne Wood would, for a time at least, become the best known, and liked, of the leaders of the political parties in Wales.

However, it’s going to take much more than a change of First Minister to shake Welsh politics out of it’s current settled / moribund (delete according to your political preference) state.

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