Posted on Our Kingdom on 11th March 2008
The Welsh political class is full of talk of who will replace Rhodri Morgan as First Minister when he stands down in September 2009. Supporters of Carwyn Jones confidently predict he'll slot nicely into the role. Detractors talk up the chances of Huw Lewis, Leighton Andrews and Edwina Hart. Though the names may be unfamiliar across the Severn, it will come as little surprise to learn that they are all Labour names. It reflects the party's complacency. But if I were a betting man I'd be putting my money on another name: Ieuan Wyn Jones.
The Plaid Cymru leader, and deputy First Minister in the Coalition, is preparing his exit strategy from the ‘One Wales' Government. In a speech to the Party faithful in Pontypridd last night Mr Jones began laying the ground for withdrawal from the red / green pact when Rhodri Morgan stands down.
Though he and his Ministers sit comfortably around the cabinet table in Cardiff Bay, the experience of Government has not been altogether smooth. Plaid have been alienating their core supporters by provoking the collapse of an embryonic Welsh language daily newspaper, and by supporting the closure of small schools in rural Gwynedd.
The Plaid leader persuaded his party to go into coalition with Labour on the back of their promise of a referendum on upgrading the Welsh devolution settlement before the end of the Assembly's term. It was always a long-shot, and its prospects have been diminishing.
A BBC poll a fortnight ago showed a lead of just 7% for Scottish style powers and the new Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy has been downplaying expectations that Labour will deliver on its pledge: "It's part of the negotiations which led up to the formation of the coalition, it's politics, that's what goes on".
It's part of the negotiations which led up to the formation of the coalition, it's politics, that's what goes on
Ieuan Wyn Jones is no fool, he knows that a referendum is unlikely before 2011. He also knows that if he stays in Government with Labour until 2011 without a referendum to show for it his party will be calling for his head. He now needs to turn his weakness into strength. Last night he made his first move, warning his coalition partners: "We have to lead the debate on this. And what we don't want is for people to be continually questioning the commitment to this proposal and therefore undermining it".
We have to lead the debate on this. And what we don't want is for people to be continually questioning the commitment to this proposal and therefore undermining it
A divisive election within Labour to succeed Rhodri Morgan may provide the prefect pretext for the Plaid leader to revive the idea of a Rainbow coalition. It would allow Ieuan Wyn Jones to capitalize on Labour's internal divisions and position his party as the guardian of Welsh interests. And Labour could hardly revive their charge of Plaid being a Tory patsy with much credibility. The last 12 months of Welsh politics has taught observers to avoid making predictions. I'm sure that Rhodri Morgan's successor is already sitting around the Cabinet table, but I'd caution against assuming that it will be a Labour figure.