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Corbyn visits a Welsh Labour conference in shock

Credit: PA

Jeremy Corbyn will be the main speaker at Welsh Labour's conference in Llandudno where he'll find a party coming to terms with the shock news it learned yesterday.

Carwyn Jones told delegates that he would be stepping down as leader in Wales in the autumn and would hand over to a new First Minister at the beginning of December.

His announcement comes after six months of anger and upset within Welsh Labour following the death of the former cabinet minister Carl Sargeant, much of it directed at Mr Jones.

Sources close to the First Minister insist that he had planned his timetable for departure as long ago as last September but didn't deny that the last six months had been difficult for him personally and politically.

There was a shocked reaction in Llandudno following the speech yesterday. It had been a closely-guarded secret: not even Welsh cabinet ministers had been forewarned even though there had been rumours and speculation that something would be said.

There had been signs. Carwyn Jones bought all his special advisers dinner on Friday night. Post-speech interviews weren't quite confirmed. As journalists covering conferences, we're usually given copies of the big speeches a few minutes before they take place, in order to help us check the wording and timings. This time we were only given some extracts relating to announcements in the speech.

But the announcement still came as a surprise and the party now has to come to terms with the prospect of losing the man who has led them for nearly a decade.

Carwyn Jones and Jeremy Corbyn haven't always seen eye to eye. Before the 2017 election the Welsh leader said the UK leader had a mountain to climb.

But they put their differences to one side over a plate of chips in a café outside Bangor and by the time of last year's Labour conference seemed to be best of friends, joking about each other's footballing allegiances.

In response to yesterday's announcement, Jeremy Corbyn paid a fulsome tribute to Carwyn Jones:

I would like to thank Carwyn Jones for his service as leader of Welsh Labour and First Minister of Wales.

Carwyn has led Welsh Labour to achieve unprecedented electoral success, forming two Labour Welsh Assembly governments.

Over the last nine years he has stood up to Tory austerity and stood up for the people of Wales as a strong voice for devolution and democracy.

In the face of the Conservatives' cuts from Westminster, his government has invested in jobs and infrastructure through the National Development Bank for Wales, protected free school meals and free prescriptions.

Welsh Labour introduced an organ donation opt-out law and children's burial fund, paving the way for their introduction across the UK.

Carwyn has been a staunch advocate of a jobs-first Brexit which works for Wales, including continued membership of a customs union.

I pay tribute to Carwyn for his tireless commitment to making Wales a more equal country which works for the many, not the few.

– Jeremy Corbyn MP, Labour leader

Attention now turns to who might replace Carwyn Jones.

I've spoken to three people who've been mentioned as potential candidates. Health Secretary Vaughan Gething told me that 'today just isn’t a day to get into runners and riders, It’s for reflecting on Carwyn’s legacy.'

Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said 'I will be making any decisions I have to make at the time I need to make it.'

The former Counsel General Mick Antoniw told me 'it’s far too early to say. Many people would like to consider the future of Welsh Labour Party & who might be the best candidate to take Welsh Labour forward.'

People also talk up the chances of Eluned Morgan and Jeremy Miles although I haven't spoken to either about these matters this weekend.

Following the death of Carl Sargeant, Welsh Labour is going through one of the most difficult times it's ever known. Now it's going through a time which will see it move into a new chapter.

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