Y Barcud Oren #12

To Wales, then, where it’s goodbye from him, and it’s au revoir from him …

And So, With Tears In Either Eye

In fairness to him, Rhodri Morgan pretty much kept to his end of the bargain in announcing that he would stand down as First Minister after the Assembly budget was agreed on December 8th (but since the promise was that he’d announce his intentions on or around September 29th, his end of the bargain wasn’t that hard to keep up). The inevitable political and journalistic encomium followed and you can’t begrudge it him; whatever his political failings, his personal popularity is unmatched in recent memory.

With the flag dropped, Larry, Moe and Curly were soon off and running to succeed him (not that they hadn’t been before, unofficially).

First to show was Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney AM Huw Lewis, of whom it’s difficult to report much new as he’s basically been running for the leadership since July 2007, when he was moved aside (read: sacked) to make way for a Plaid minister as part of the coalition agreement (read: because he opposed it).

The campaign launch reflected the manifesto he’s been hawking around the country ever since, namely that Llafur should break with history and have their traditional post-defeat lurch into communism before they’ve actually lost. It’s a bold strategy, and he certainly found the right face to help him launch it; Jessica Morden, the virtually anonymous MP for Newport East whose upcoming electoral arse-kicking at the hands of our very own Ed Townsend looks likely to mirror Huw’s own over the next eight weeks.

The trouble with Huw from a blogger’s standpoint is that, despite being the outsider, as the candidate who’s been out there the longest he’s the easiest one to write about. On the funny side, there’s his insistence on implicit comparisons to that heroic liberal American President, Josiah Bartlet, as his campaign slogan, “Let Labour Be Labour”, demonstrates. Less humorously, there’s the question of whether in his courting of the Jon Cruddases of this world he doth protest too much.

The key exhibit for the champagne socialist prosecution, particularly in this time of expenses scandals, is the question of where exactly he lives. The Mythbusters section of his website claims that he lives in Merthyr and that his house in Cardiff Bay is not for profit, but that’s not the point; Huw’s wife is the AM for Torfaen, so which residence is most likely to be his main one for them and their children? One of their respective constituency homes in the Valleys, or the second home they share in middle-class Penarth? On that issue, comment comes there none.

Next up was in many ways the wild card, Edwina Hart, the AM for Gower. Long considered a contender, the Health Minister had generally stayed out of the preliminaries only to leap straight into the race and establish an early lead, at least among her Assembly colleagues.

Nevertheless, that lack of preliminary business makes Edwina’s campaign the most intriguing, not least because of the fundamental dichotomy she represents. Her appeal is clearly based on her record as a decisive and/or divisive Health Minister, but while it’s easy to imagine her being an excellent leader of the Welsh Labour Party, you get the feeling she’d be an absolutely dreadful First Minister (not that that logic stopped Gordon Brown, of course).

Last in, however, was the theoretical heir apparent, Carwyn Jones, the AM for Bridgend. A cabinet veteran, Carwyn has spent the last two years in the highly important role of Minister For Not Doing Anything Anyone Might Notice And Thus Be Annoyed By. His campaign launch also captured the fundamental essence of his offer, namely that while he’s meant to be the next Rhodri Morgan, he looks and sounds rather like the next Tony Blair (or in the dullness stakes, the next Iain Gray). Nevertheless, as the only fluent Welsh speaker of the contenders, Carwyn embodies the issue likely to be at the heart of the campaign, namely how a party that after the next General Election will have been wiped out west of the Loughor and the Clwyd can speak for all of Wales. If any of them realise that the first step in that would be to speak for any of Wales, things might get interesting …

Charles The Verb

For a moment, however, it looked as if Rhodri’s departure, pre-announced as it was, might be overshadowed by a somewhat more surprising leap from the ship of state.

Adam Price’s speech to Plaid conference was widely seen as his coming out party, the moment his accomplishments caught up with his ego in which he has always been The Next Leader Of Plaid Cymru™. Admittedly it wasn’t clear whether that was because it was so good or because, by comparison, Ieuan Wyn Jones’s speech was so utterly atrocious (and if you haven’t time for Freedom Central’s excellent coverage of that, let me suggest that the level of IWJ’s speech may be described as follows; low, lower than low, hades low, spinning iron core of the planet low, low …).

It turned out, however, that he’d passed up the chance to make his performance even bigger, as the draft speech included the announcement he made a week later, namely that he was stepping down as MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. That much was unsurprising, since to be leader of Plaid he needs to be in the Assembly and even if Rhodri Glyn Thomas had been willing to step aside, he wouldn’t have been able to sustain the dual mandate for three to four years.

The surprise was that he’d found a better excuse than “I want to be leader of Plaid” which, while true, might not have endeared him to wherever he ends up parachuting himself. Instead, he announced that he would spend a year studying in America on a Fulbright scholarship, thus inventing the political verb, “to do a Kennedy” (as any fule kno, Charles was a Fulbright scholar at Indiana in 1983 when he came back to stand for Parliament).

Whether the excuse helps at all remains unclear; Plaid’s top targets seem fairly settled for candidates, including the pundits’ favourite to receive him, Neath. He could be hoping that there’ll be a wave of unexpected Plaid wins that clears the way for him in a raft of seats, but you’d have to be pretty delusional to expect that … Ah …

* Gareth Aubrey is a councillor in Cardiff and blogs at Long Despairing Young Something. Y Barcud Oren means ‘The Orange Kite’.

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2 Comments

  • “The key exhibit for the champagne socialist prosecution, particularly in this time of expenses scandals, is the question of where exactly he lives”

    I disagree. The key argument against “champagne socialists”, for outside observers, should always be that the anti-market, anti-democratic centralised principles underlying socialism are at best unsuited to public services, and at worst downright dangerous. There are a hundred ways to tear down Huw Lewis’s campaign, but I couldn’t care less where he lives. So he might be a hypocrite? Find me a politician who isn’t. This sort of blogosphere tittle-tattle nonsense is a waste of time.

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