Contest concerns in Welsh leadership battle

Credit: PA, Gareth Fuller

The contest to replace Carwyn Jones is intensifying, even though there are at least five months until he formally stands down as Welsh Labour leader.

Behind the scenes there are concerns that the field is narrowing too quickly and also growing fears at the possibility of there being no women on the ballot paper, something described by one AM as 'unthinkable.'

Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford is the first and only candidate so far to have declared that he's standing although there's speculation that Health Secretary Vaughan Gething will announce his candidacy today or tomorrow.

Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford is the only candidate to declare he is standing for leader Credit: PA Images

He's under pressure to declare from members who are alarmed by the swiftness and efficiency of the Drakeford campaign and who worry that that campaign will only benefit from having more than one opponent.

The Drakeford campaign is being led by AMs and senior party figures on the left of the party connected to the organisation Welsh Labour Grassroots which is affiliated to the Jeremy Corbyn-backing Momentum group although his support is said to go much wider than just amongst the traditional left.

However if Mark Drakeford is seen as the left's candidate, Vaughan Gething is likely to be backed by those who'd be considered on the right of moderate wing, often referred to by the name of the grouping and magazine Progress.

Vaughan Gething

And that's at least one reason why some want a bigger range of candidates, so that the contest can't be caricatured as 'Momentum versus Progress.'

Labour AMs Lee Waters and Hannah Blythyn have both spoken publicly of the need for a full contest rather than a coronation or even a two-horse race.

And Aberavon AM David Rees has written to the Labour group setting out the same view. I've obtained a copy of his email in which he says that the party needs to have 'the widest possible debate...with a diverse range of candidates.'

He says there needs to be several candidates when the contest formally begins in September and he urges his colleagues not to say who they'll be nominating until after the summer, so that a wide ranging debate can be held.

Further to the discussion in Group yesterday morning relating to the forthcoming leadership contest, I feel that I need to put my views on record for all within the group. I strongly believe that it is important that we, and all in the party, have the widest possible debate for the leadership, with a diverse range of candidates as possible which would provide the party with an opportunity to debate the varied visions for the future delivery of our manifesto pledges and how we move beyond them.

I have spoken to a number of colleagues, including nearly all of those identified as potential candidates, to express this view and I am convinced that the party needs and deserves the Labour group to put forward several candidates in September that have had time to consider the ideas they wish to put forward and to have them tested by us.

I am aware that some colleagues have already indicated their personal preference and support for individuals who have either indicated that they intend to seek nominations or who are likely to do so and I fully respect their right to do so at this early stage. However, I would hope that those other colleagues who have not yet done so, take time to reflect and thus not all rush to commit, thereby allowing time for all those who may be looking to put themselves forward to provide an opportunity to offer their vision which could be put to the members. It is a long time until September which , as the First minister indicated yesterday, would be the likely date for nominations to be submitted.

I hope that colleagues will consider this in the coming days.

– David Rees AM in a letter to Labour colleagues
It is thought the only woman still thinking about launching a bid is Eluned Morgan

I can also report increasing concerns about the prospect that there might not be a woman on the ballot paper in the autumn.

The Merthyr AM Dawn Bowden told me in Monday's Sharp End that such a situation would be 'unthinkable' in 2018.

However it's thought the only woman still thinking about launching a bid is Eluned Morgan although she hasn't yet said anything publicly.

A petition has appeared online which now has nearly 300 signatures urging Labour AMs to ensure she's one of the candidates.

Those behind the petition say it's time to change the fact that Wales 'is unique in that it has never elected a woman leader.'

For too long women have been overlooked in Welsh politics. Despite the many movements and campaigns to bring about equality, Wales of all the UK nations is unique in that it has never elected a woman leader.

Let's change that.

Let's make THIS time THE time!

We have an opportunity to bring about real, meaningful change...

– Elect Eluned petition

As General Secretary of Welsh Labour when the Assembly began, Anita Gale was involved in efforts that were often controversial at the time to ensure an equal number of female candidates were selected to stand for the new institution.

Now Baroness Gale has told me 'it would be really appalling' if there's no woman on the ballot paper. She's making no secret that she would prefer Eluned Morgan to stand but more importantly she says there should not be an all-male contest.

I really hope to get a woman on the ballot paper. It would be really appalling if we can't do that. There are 29 Assembly members, enough of them to come up with 6 to nominate a woman.

We should have a range of candidates, a good choice for Assembly members. My preference after nearly twenty years when we've yet to have a woman First minister would be to have a woman leader and in my view there is a woman there who could do the job very well. If I could nominate, I'd nominate Eluned Morgan.

When the Assembly started Labour made a really big effort to get an equal number of candidates. It was difficult but we did it. We have a good range of women to choose from and in three leadership elections we've only ever had one woman on the ballot paper. In the year we're celebrating a hundred years since women got the vote we should be able to have a woman on the ballot paper.

– Baroness Gale of Blaenrhondda

Others who are still considering whether or not to stand are said to be Ken Skates, Jeremy Miles and Alun Davies.

There are a lot of conversations, a lot of calculations and several conflicting dynamics at work in this leadership contest which is already making things tricky with half a year to go until it's resolved.