Today’s Alyn and Deeside by-election is just another chapter in Labour’s internal war

The First Minister. Picture: National Assembly.

Ifan Morgan Jones

On paper there’s nothing particularly interesting about today’s Alyn and Deeside by-election.

It’s a solid Labour seat and they will win it comfortably. Their main challengers are the Conservatives but their campaign has been largely invisible.

The only party to make any noise have been Plaid Cymru, who have a decent candidate in Carrie Harper. But this is one of the (if not the) weakest seats in Wales for them, and if they increase their vote to double digits it will have been a good night.

One thing I’ll be looking for tomorrow morning is where the UKIP vote goes. They came third in 2016 with 17.4% of the vote, but aren’t fielding a candidate this time.

But this election isn’t really a battle between Labour and Conservative or Labour and Plaid Cymru. It’s in fact another proxy war in the ongoing Corbynite v Centrist battle within the Labour Party.

Labour’s candidate, Jack Sargeant, can’t be criticised. I admire his courage in standing for the Assembly so soon after losing his father in such difficult circumstances.

But as Professor Richard Wyn Jones notes in this week’s edition of Barn: “The son’s only qualifications for the job seem to be the obvious connection with his predecessor and the fact that he intends to spend his time in Cardiff demanding justice for his father.”

This leaves Labour in the rather odd position of asking voters to vote Labour in order to send a message to Wales’ Labour Government.

As uncomfortable as his election could be for Carwyn Jones, Jack Sargeant could indeed be described as the compromise candidate. It looked at one point as if Labour could face an independent challenge, such was the anger around how Carl Sargeant was treated before his tragic death.

But it all begs the question: what exactly is Jack Sargeant going to do when he arrives at the Senedd tomorrow morning? Lead a revolt against Carwyn Jones? Of course he isn’t.

His decision not to take part in a TV debate of candidates the week before last did not dispel the notion that this by-election has more to do with internal Labour bickering than serving the best interests of the voters.

This isn’t Jack Sargeant’s fault, of course. He is but a footsoldier in a wider political battle that has been ongoing for some time.

As with the manoeuvring on the rules for voting in a new First Minister, it’s all to do with the continuing battle between the Corbynist faction within the party and the more centrist, technocratic faction currently in power in Wales.

After Richard Leonard’s victory in the leadership election in Scotland, Wales is the last part of the UK where the Corbynites have not seized complete control of the party.

But if the aim of sending Jack Sargeant to the Senedd was to dislodge Carwyn Jones then it may be a waste of time.

Jones’ authority is slipping away quickly, helped along further by last week’s health board slip up. The suspicion is that he will step down within the year.

When that happens we’re likely to see a changing of the guard towards a leader in the Corbynite mould. Mark Drakeford is currently the pundit’s choice to take over.

When Carwyn Jones was first elected as leader I described him as Welsh Labour’s John Paul II – likely to be there for a very long time.

Mark Drakeford, at 63, could be described as the Benedict XVI candidate. Someone everyone can get behind because they know he won’t necessarily be there long enough to block their own leadership ambitions.

But with politics, not just in the Labour party but across the western world in such a state of flux, who knows where we’ll be then.

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