By Adrian Masters
The dust is beginning to settle, the politicians are rested and refreshed and this is the week in which decisions will be taken which will have long-term consequences for Welsh politics.
I expect to see some movement by the end of Monday from Carwyn Jones about how he intends to deal the hand he’s been dealt. It’s a strong hand but the fact that he’s one seat short of a majority means it’ll need all his skill and strategy to play it.
In the meantime, here are some thoughts about what’s changed for each of the parties and speculation about what might happen next.
The Assembly group will need extremely strong discipline if it’s to sustain minority government over the next five years. Carwyn Jones has said that there is a range of options open to him from doing deals on a case-by-case basis, to more formal ‘supply and confidence’ arrangements or full coalition.
It’s pointless to speculate which he or his party prefers at this stage because there are so many variables that need to be taken into account. They’ll become clearer over the coming days.
For the party, even at this moment of success, there’s a longer-term question that won’t be answered for some time yet.
Poor electoral performances in 2007, 2009 and 2010 led to a great deal of soul-searching as a number of senior Labour figures suggested something was particularly wrong with Welsh Labour that needed fixing. Nobody’s asking the question now and it was clear during the campaign that the party is re-invigorated with a young and dynamic team now in charge of party operations.
However, it was only a year ago that Labour achieved its worst share of the vote in Wales since 1983. What it must demonstrate over the next few years is that the improvements are real and lasting and not dependent on a Tory bogeyman in Westminster.
Something that’s been overlooked in post-election commentary is how much of a personal victory and validation this is for the Welsh Labour leader.
He already had an overwhelming mandate from his party when he was elected leader, but now he has the strong endorsement of the country. I think this is far more important than we on the outside realise.
There have always been those within his party who’ve grumbled that he’s lazy, too close to Plaid, and just plain lucky. A successful campaign which has shown how much of an asset he’s become to the party; confident performances in TV debates and the ringing endorsements of his UK party leadership has silenced those critics.
Who will be in Carwyn Jones’ cabinet? Expect to see election mastermind Leighton Andrews rewarded with a significant role although not necessarily a different one. Pre-election he showed every intention of taking on the problem of education over an extended period. For similar reasons, Edwina Hart could well stay on in health. It’s surely time that long-term ally John Griffiths became a cabinet minister.
Labour’s manifesto hints at the possibility of a smaller cabinet. Certainly it points to a beefed-up role for Carwyn Jones himself, with a First Minister’s Delivery Unit and the FM taking on responsibility for economic development and energy policy. That could mean merging some departments. I should say that one senior Labour figure I discussed this with, dismissed the idea of a smaller cabinet saying,’why would you want more backbenchers?’
It quickly became clear during the campaign that Labour had taken many of Plaid’s best tunes and was belting them out with gusto. Plenty of internal and external critics are drawing unfavourable comparisons with the SNP’s campaign in Scotland.
There’s bound to be a question over the leadership of Ieuan Wyn Jones. But Plaid may think it needs to work out what went wrong before settling on a new leader.
What messages should it take from the SNP’s stunning victory in Scotland? Should it be more bold about independence? Change its name? But surely another lesson from the Scottish election is that Labour’s strategy of making the Welsh election part of a UK battle between Labour and the Conservatives may have failed in Scotland but worked here in Wales. That could well justify Plaid’s caution over talking about independence although it could be argued that Plaid’s role should now be to lead the debate and shape opinion.
The other question is whether or not it can do all this in government. Ieuan Wyn Jones has apparently told his party that it should go into government at every available opportunity. If he follows through with this policy (and if he’s in a position to do so), can his party do the job of holding an inquest, changing its approach, possibly changing its leader – at the same time?
In the short term the Conservatives have a specific task – to choose a new leader who can continue the progress made under Nick Bourne. Who will get the job? Acting leader Paul Davies has to be in with a chance. Darren Millar must be a good bet. Andrew Davies wants it. Don’t rule out Angela Burns or Nick Ramsay standing.
If the Assembly group agrees on one candidate, AMs alone will have be responsible for choosing the next leader. If there’s more than one candidate, I gather the wider party votes, a situation which is thought to favour Andrew Davies.
On Thursday Alun Cairns MP said the election saw the return of two-party politics to Wales. That may be overstating it but, as the now-former leader Nick Bourne said in his interview with me, the campaign certainly was polarised. In that same interview he speaks about his 12-year task of reinventing the Welsh Conservatives, taking them to the centre-ground of Welsh politics, ground that means more of the ‘Cymrufication’ – who would best take that legacy on?
I also asked him if it was time the party formalised that process by creating a formal Welsh party leader role – Nick Bourne has always been leader of the Conservative Assembly group rather than the party at large. He said that was a decision for the party, as was choosing a leader which is why he wouldn’t endorse any of the candidates. He also refused to speculate on the chance that he might become Lord Bourne.
Speculation is rife that some sort of deal with the Liberal Democrats is Labour’s preferred option. It’s often coupled with the rather cynical explanation that it would take less to win them over than it would Plaid. But as one senior Lib Dem put it to me, ‘Kirsty’s nobody’s cheap date.’
What’s more, despite everything, Kirsty Williams is in a better position than many predicted. Yes, it was a bad election for her party but there are still five Lib Dem AMs which gives them a foundation from which to rebuild.
I’m told that within the party, the leader is praised for recognising how difficult the election would be and dealing with it as effectively as possible. More importantly, it’s said that she’s trusted by party members to be open about any arrangements she may or may not reach with Labour and not to sign the party up to any deal it could be uncomfortable with.
She’s said that her priority is to promote the priorities the Lib Dems set out during the election, and is open-minded about how that’s achieved
There’s a good deal of confusion over this with even some quite experienced Assembly hands expressing the view that having a Presiding Officer from an opposition party would give Labour a majority of one. It won’t. The Assembly’s standing orders are clear: if the PO comes from the opposition, the Deputy has to come from the government party and vice versa. Their votes are (generally) taken out of the equation thus taking the situation back to stalemate.
The Assembly could decide to suspend the rules so that both PO and DPO come from opposition parties which would have the effect of giving Labour a 2-seat majority. But to do that requires a two thirds majority, i.e. 40 AMs must vote for it. That means Labour would need the support of either the Conservatives or Plaid Cymru to do it. Why would either or those want to make life any easier for Carwyn Jones?
Who’s in the running for both posts? Dafydd Elis-Thomas must still be a consideration, even though all the hints from him and from other Assembly figures suggest he won’t be returning to the Chair. The current Deputy, Labour’s Rosemary Butler is a strong possibility for the top job. The Conservative Angela Burns (if she doesn’t run for her party’s leadership) is thought to be interested. Her colleague David Melding has already said he’s not standing. For the Liberal Democrats, Peter Black has done the job from time to time.