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  • Lawrence Bailey

Where now for Labour in Wales?

It was never going to be a straightforward conference for Labour in Llandudno. Too many elephants in the room threatened to crowd out the agenda.

Yet in the end, it was Carwyn Jones who prompted commentators to punch the Twitter app on their phones like things possessed.

Many of them had speculated on the First Minister’s imminent exit, although this was definitely one occasion where a departure announcement was not prefaced by leaks.

Carwyn’s grip on office had been looking more tenuous with each Senedd appearance. His opponents across the chamber grew more strident in questioning his integrity while his glum-faced colleagues sat behind him in semi-complicit silence.

But what’s done is done and some 72 hours later attention switches, as it inevitably does in politics, to what happens next.

Succession planning at the Senedd has been quietly going on in the background for some time, of course; and if recent experience is any guide then it’s going to be the method rather than any message that could up dominating discussion.

As much as the principle of one-member-one-vote (OMOV) has become the norm elsewhere, Welsh Labour has a habit of doing things its own way. This means the leadership gets decided by a ‘thirds’ electoral college with different sections of the Labour movement having an equal say.

It’s a messy business and open to regular challenges of unfairness. Nonetheless, and whatever system is used, my guess is we’ll witness the usual contest where leadership qualities are overshadowed by the machinations of competing power blocs whose focus is on power as much as progress.

Unplugging the trade union movement from leadership & policy decisions in Wales is going to be a tough call. Despite the talk of 'mass-movement', a thriving party membership may not be the force some reckon. I understand the constituency turnout in the deputy leadership race was nothing to cheer about.

Another factor is that all the dramatic talk of “fighting for the soul of the party” looks like self-indulgence from the perspective of voters - especially those disillusioned Remainers who are looking to Labour to deliver social safeguards.

On that note, it’s a positive sign good to see Swansea East MP, Carolyn Harris installed as deputy leader. I have to confess that I wasn’t too sure about the necessity for such a role but it’s clear this is no job for an honorary sidekick.

That aspect seems to have been lost on some media commentators who came across as deeply affronted that someone from outside the Cardiff Bay bubble was getting such an influential position.

Carolyn is an accomplished social justice campaigner. She is also a pragmatic individual who knows that political aims count for little if you are not in power – or properly in tune with the communities you claim to represent.

As regards the top job, there are a few obvious names and one favourite. There's a bit of negative background noise in some quarters about “middle-aged white males” but a smart choice of unity candidate might make a debate over election method far less of an upfront issue.

If that doesn't happen then it could turn out to be a long lonely summer for inward-looking Labour in Wales.

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