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The contest for the most laborious leadership race drags on

16 Jul 2018 5 minute read
Snail race

Daran Hill, Managing Director at Positif public affairs consultancy

The most turbulent term ever at the Assembly in party political terms is drawing to a close, leaving observers both breathless and bewildered.

Yet some questions continue to niggle. How on earth did it take some people so long to make their minds up and why have some people still not done so?

I exclude the Welsh Conservatives from this. In six days they went from a coup to candidates, with every eligible AM except the ousted leader declaring their side for a coming battle that will be neatly concluded by the start of September.

It was a model of efficient execution and regrouping. Not for them the big – and public – indecision and hand-wringing.

Predicting how their race will resolve itself is more difficult, though it strikes me that whichever of the two Davies’ displays a bit of true blue Brexit zest might have the edge.

Neither have yet to commence the campaign and seem, in Thatcherite terms, to be “wet and wetter” at the moment. I am sure this will change.

Labour is moving at an altogether slower pace. It will be almost five months between Carwyn’s decision to go at one conference to the holding of another special conference to agree the method by which he will be replaced.

The potential candidates have taken this as a signal to move like molluscs too. Vaughan Gething has now been waiting about seven weeks for just one AM to nominate him and get him over the line and on to the ballot paper.

Eluned Morgan and Huw Irranca-Davies are still waiting for the first person to sign their forms. For the former particularly this can’t have been a particularly pleasant experience.

As an outsider, I am quite baffled at how Labour’s commitment to equality seems to be so self-limiting. Virtue signalling seems easier than signing a nomination paper.

Meanwhile, Mark Drakeford’s sluggish campaign is only now getting any additional traction in names, although the four new nominees he secured last week was impressive.

But, arguably through no fault of his own, the potential lack of a contest that Mark reputedly wants has become the biggest problem for his campaign for leader.

And still, the Labour Party conference is two months away… After all this waiting, it better be pretty bloody special.


To be fair to Plaid, they’ve given Labour a crawl for their money in managing to produce the most laborious contest since Father Ted’s geriatric football match.

Ever since last summer there have been more than rumours that Adam Price and Rhun ap Iorwerth might try to oust Leanne.

Their occasional interviews since then have sometimes fanned the flames, and sometimes tried to piddle on them.

Quite what the Price gambit last week calling for a dual leadership achieved other than uniting pretty much everyone outside his camp against the idea is beyond me.

It was as if the beasts had been slumbering in hibernation well beyond the start of spring.

The indecision then resulted, last week, in an almost unedifying spectacle as the two stags stumbled out of the forest, not as morning broke but as evening was about to set.

They found not a cowering doe, but a matriarch who was in no way prepared to vacate her grazing ground (even if in seven years of territory marking she’d only managed to take the parcel to one extra field).

The Plaid contest will be decided with a single ballot with transfers from the candidate eliminated first.

Accepting the conventional wisdom that no candidate will win more than 50% of the vote, and Leanne Wood has enough beefed up residual support to avoid coming last, then the first challenge the young bucks face is not to knock out her but to knock out the other one.

I suspect we will see the stags rutting all summer.

And that is where Plaid is at. If anything, the indecision and late formulation of her opponents has given Leanne Wood more time and more opportunity to secure her position.


Where Plaid and the Conservatives have the real edge on Labour now is that they will at least will settle their direction relatively quickly.

Less easy to decipher is the context in UKIP for Assembly group leader. The group has always resembled a bit of a Pirandello flavour, with six characters in search of a party. But now half of them want to lead it.

To play to stereotype, there is the dastardly but charismatic pantomime villain Hamilton, versus the pub politician Bennett, versus the “gone Assembly native” Jones.

So, four contests are being played out with varying pace, varying necessity and varying needs.

But by the end of September, the matter will be settled in the Tories, Plaid and UKIP while Labour drags on.

Which could at that point present a perverse image: Labour deciding which man should lead it, faced across the chamber by three women leaders.

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