Welsh Labour's nervous wait for UK leader

Welsh Labour politicians await the election of the party's UK leader Credit: Welsh Labour

Whatever anybody tells you, it's impossible to predict the outcome of this Labour leadership election. Nobody really knows who will get the party's top job when the result is announced on Saturday morning.

However it's also important to say that nearly every Labour politician in Parliament or the Assembly that I've spoken to over the last week or so is fully expecting Jeremy Corbyn to win.

In fact only one Welsh Labour MP that I talked to this week thinks that it'll be anyone other than Mr Corbyn. Their suspicion was that Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper could be the surprise winner.

Even while hoping for such a surprise outcome, supporters of the other three contenders have their own complaints about their candidates.

A Liz Kendall supporter said her campaign had made virtually no impact.

One ally of Andy Burnham thinks his decision to abstain on the Welfare Bill damaged his bid.

And a campaigner for Yvette Cooper said that with hindsight they wished there'd been an earlier attack on Jeremy Corbyn's policies and associations.

That supporter added, however, that 'anyone who says they saw this [Corbyn's extraordinary popularity] coming is lying.'

Every Welsh Labour MP is now preparing for what happens next under a Corbyn leadership.

One MP told me they don't want to be present in the Commons chamber for next week's Prime Minister's Questions if Jeremy Corbyn is Opposition leader because they won't be able to disguise their displeasure.

A number of MPs told me that, if the Islington MP is in charge, they plan to follow his own example and decide how they'll vote regardless of what the leadership wants.

It means several Welsh MPs are looking at becoming serial rebels in Parliament, something they hadn't expected when they were elected.

Being a rebel backbencher is one thing, but those with Shadow cabinet, front bench rôles and other jobs such as party Whips and PPSs have another decision to make.

One senior figure who's decided to accept a job if offered, told me that others in the same position are agonising over whether or not to 'engage or walk away.' That particular person believes that if they don't engage, it risks 'turning a bad situation into a catastrophe.'

Others have made a different decision. His colleagues believe Shadow Culture Secretary Chris Bryant would refuse to remain in a Corbyn shadow cabinet.

Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith has said he'd work with any one of the four candidates that wins. There's been speculation though that, whoever becomes leader, he'll move from the job he's occupied for the last three years.

Whether they're thinking about engaging or walking away, many say they'd expect Jeremy Corbyn to reach out to critics if he wins and meet them half-way on some of the more controversial issues such as his opposition to Trident.

It won't just be in Parliament that the decision will have an impact. Labour faces a huge challenge to hold onto its dominant position in the Assembly.

Many senior figures, including the First Minister, have said that the choice of UK leader shouldn't affect May's election which is expected to focus on Labour's record running the Welsh Government.

But others have told me that the person at the top of the party across the UK, the direction they set and the policies they introduce will affect the vote in Wales. Those holding that view, however, can't agree on whether or not that effect will be positive or negative.

Something I've heard a lot from Labour figures at all levels is a sense of excitement about the large numbers of new members, affiliates and registered supporters who've appeared during this campaign.

Even allowing for allegations that many of those are a mix of left-wing 'usual suspects' and mischief-making political opponents, MPs and AMs are hoping to harness the enthusiasm and energy for the future.

All of us waiting for the result will know soon enough: it'll be announced on Saturday.

I don't think it'll be the end of Labour's turbulent time though. That's only just beginning.