Questions to the next First Minister

It's an unusual time in Welsh politics. We're just weeks away from a change at the top which will see a new First Minister in place by Christmas.

Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford, Health Secretary Vaughan Gething and Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning Minister Eluned Morgan have been battling it out in a series of hustings and other events, winning the support or otherwise of members of the Labour party, trade unions and affiliated organisations. Voting in the leadership election begins this Friday (9th November).

So while none of them is yet First Minister and Carwyn Jones continues to field questions from AMs in the Senedd, it's important to know what their views are on some of the issues which have been making the news this week. After all, they'd be expected to answer questions on such matters if they were already in post.

That's why I've asked them what they make of the possible closure of Schaeffler's Llanelli plant, what their thoughts are on the anniversary of Carl Sargeant's death, how they respond to our poll findings and comments about anti-semitism in the Labour party made by Peter Hain.

I've also asked them about a few controversies specific to each of their campaigns. It certainly seems to have become increasingly tense with social media accounts of sharp exchanges at hustings meetings and coded criticism in public statements.

As part of our coverage of the election on ITV Cymru Wales we've already brought the candidates together in a special edition of Sharp End which you can watch in full here. There'll also be extended interviews with each of them in editions of Sharp End beginning Monday 12th November.

And there'll be a special edition of Wales This Week on November 19th in which you'll be able to see them in a different, more personal light.

Schaeffler closure plans

Credit: ITV Wales News

Politicians of all parties reacted with concern to this week's news that the automotive business Schaeffler was planning to close its Llanelli site with the loss of 220 jobs, blaming Brexit-related uncertainty.

But the Labour party came in for criticism too when Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price accused the Welsh government of being 'asleep at the wheel' after the First Minister admitted he'd first heard about the possible closure just before the announcement on Tuesday morning.

Mark Drakeford dismissed that criticism.

To me that is a complete failure to deal with the substantive issue. The substantive issues here are the families in Llanelli whose jobs we are talking about and the efforts that need to be made to secure those jobs for the future. The explanation lies in Brexit and to try to turn it into a personal attack on an individual is to be very wide of where the real issues lie.

Mark Drakeford AM

Eluned Morgan also thinks it's wrong to use the prospect of job losses for political purposes:

Adam Price as always has missed the target. If there are questions to be answered here they are for the UK Government and their handling of Brexit. Only Adam wants to use these proposed job losses as a stick to beat the Welsh Government. The news came as a shock to everyone at the plant themselves so its is just wrong to claim that we could have done anything in advance of this news.

Eluned Morgan AM

Vaughan Gething, too, rejected the Plaid Cymru leader's comments but recognised that they represented a challenge to Labour.

This election is a choice between the past and the future. My campaign has been entirely focused on change. By next year Welsh Labour will have been in government for 20 years. Adam Price is wrong but he represents a different challenge with a new Tory leader. We need to renew and refresh Welsh Labour to face the combined challenges of the Tories and Plaid Cymru. We can only do that by changing, but change takes courage.

Vaughan Gething AM

Poll positions

Our latest Welsh Barometer poll had some gloomy findings for the three candidates, showing that most voters neither have strong opinions about them or even know who they are.

Although their recognition levels are low, according to the poll Eluned Morgan comes ahead of the others as far as Labour voters are concerned which is something she's naturally pleased about.

I am delighted that I am heading the poll in terms of Labour Party voters. This proves that voters 'beyond the bubble' are looking for something new and different from the Labour Party. A real momentum of support is now building for my candidacy and the ability to reach beyond the party and into communities across Wales will be crucial to delivering Labour Policy and securing a Labour Government both in Wales and in Westminster in the future. Having said this, I recognise that there is a huge amount of work to be done by all candidates to raise our profile in Wales and to convince those who are undecided in the next few weeks of the campaign.

Eluned Morgan AM

Vaughan Gething takes from the poll further evidence for his claim that change is what's needed, with the implication that he's the one to offer that change.

Politics is changing and the public are looking for something different and the polling reflects that. My message is clear: Welsh Labour needs to change. Whoever wins the contest will of course have an automatically higher profile. However, the bigger challenge is the connection between politicians and the public. The lack of public trust in politics won’t improve if we offer more of the same. I’m acutely conscious of the task ahead of us.

Vaughan Gething AM

Mark Drakeford insists he's not worried by being placed third in the poll saying 'I don't think the poll is to be regarded as reliable in that sort of fine detail.' However he acknowledged that it raises concerns about voter engagement.

The need to improve democratic engagement with the national assembly is clearly there as it is with so much of democracy. It reinforces my commitment that if I were to be First Minister I am very determined to run a collective leadership in the Welsh Government.

Mark Drakeford AM

Anniversary of Carl Sargeant's death

It's been a year since the former government minister Carl Sargeant died

AMs and Assembly staff along with family and friends have been marking a year since the death of the former minister Carl Sargeant.

Huge questions remain about the circumstances of his death, his sacking by the First Minister and the handling of allegations made against him, questions that may be answered in this month's Coroner's Inquest and a QC-led independent investigation.

Whoever takes over from Carwyn Jones will have to deal with the fallout of those inquiries. Here are the thoughts of the candidates as they and colleagues marked the anniversary.

Carl's death rocked the Welsh Assembly and has impacted on every member working in the institution.

Eluned Morgan AM

Thoughts are inevitably and properly focussed today on thinking of Carl and thinking of his family and the very difficult year that they have had. I was glad to be able to go and take part in the small event that took place downstairs in the Senedd today as part of remembering our former colleague.

Mark Drakeford AM

The Sargeant family and the wider community of people affected by this tragic event should be treated with respect and understanding. The inquest and inquiry will be a difficult time for many people. We still have more to do on promoting respect and kindness within political life. That should continue to be our focus.

Vaughan Gething AM

Labour and antisemitism

Activists outside a meeting of the Labour NEC in September 2018 Credit: PA, Steffan Rousseau

Labour's UK leadership has been struggling to cope with criticism of its handling of allegations of anti-semitism levelled against some of its activists.

In comments to the BBCthe former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain was critical of Jeremy Corbyn saying that he should have been tougher dealing with the matter.

Vaughan Gething seems to agree, criticising those in his party who have played down complaints of anti-semitism as being entirely politically-motivated.

There can’t be equivocation when it comes to antisemitism. Claiming that anti-semitism is a creation of the main stream media or the political right belittles and denies the very real experiences of people, who are entitled to expect much more from the Labour Party. We cannot make it harder to reach out to people who feel let down by our Party. We have to demonstrate leadership that is consistent with our values and stamp out anti-semitism.

Vaughan Gething AM

Mark Drakeford believes the party has recognised the problem and now has the tools to ensure that complaints are dealt with properly.

Anti semitism is deplorable and unacceptable wherever it happens. It's very important that the Labour party should uphold its proud record as an anti-racist party. It's been a difficult year for Labour in this way and I think that we've come out of it as a result of decisions made in our conference better equipped to go on dealing with the issue. The issue is never over. However it raises its head, it is unacceptable and the party now has the policies and the processes in place to make sure we respond to it effectively.

Mark Drakeford AM

Eluned Morgan acknowledges those changes have been made but regrets that it got that far.

There is no place for anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. We must stamp out discrimination in all its ugly forms. I am pleased that as a Party we have now taken on board the IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism - this was an unnecessary row that the Party should have avoided.

Eluned Morgan AM

Drakeford and the 'burning ambition' question

Credit: ITV News, Adrian Masters

Mark Drakeford faced criticism after saying in an interview with Wales Online that he had no burning ambition to be First Minister and that he wasn't relishing First Minister's Questions.

I asked him about those accusations:

The accusations are nonsensical. I was making it clear, and I'm pleased to make it clear again, that I am not motivated to stand in this election simply to gratify a sense of personal ambition.

Mark Drakeford AM

It's still a comment that worries Vaughan Gething however:

Wales needs change and hope for the future, that includes a policy platform that demonstrates how we can change our country. Leading our country isn’t an easy job, but it is a real privilege. I think any future leader should have drive and ambition for our country and positively want to do the job. That really should include a burning ambition to serve and transform our country.

Vaughan Gething AM

Eluned Morgan also picks up the phrase 'burning ambition' to make a polite criticism of her colleague.

Mark Drakeford is a sincere and honourable man. Unlike Mark, I do have a burning ambition to lead the Labour Party in Wales and to lead the country through what is likely to be a very challenging time.

Eluned Morgan AM

Morgan and renouncing her peerage

Eluned Morgan, who as well as being an AM, sits in the House of Lords as Baroness Morgan of Ely. She's announced that if she becomes First Minister she will renounce her peerage.

However the Assembly is changing its rules so that any peers who become AMs will have to take a leave of absence from the upper house. So is she just announcing that she'll follow the rules? She says her pledge is to do much more than that.

I understand that some would be uncomfortable with the prospect of someone with a title leading the country and that is why I recently announced that were I to be elected as First Minister that I would renounce my peerage.

Eluned Morgan AM

Her competitors think she's doing the right thing.

I believe in the basic principle that the Labour party has generally set in this area, that we don't have dual mandates, that if you are a member of the National Assembly that that is a full time job and that you shouldn't' be an MP at the same time or a councillor at the same time or a member of any other legislature so I'm a supporter of that principle and I think it's a principle we would be sensible to apply uniformly across the board.

Mark Drakeford AM

Eluned Morgan has served our party in the House of Lords for the last 8 years. I recognise that the Assembly is likely to change the rules to stop people being a member of the Lords and the Assembly at the same time.

Vaughan Gething AM

Gething and the campaign funding question

Credit: ITV News, Adrian Masters

Vaughan Gething received criticism for some of his funding sources but is strongly defending his campaign funding:

Ours is a grassroots, people-powered campaign with support from individuals and successful businesses within my constituency. I’ve been very clear and open about the donations to my campaign, they are all checked for permissibility and we publicly declare every donation that we should do. We will continue to take a transparent approach.

Vaughan Gething AM

Mark Drakeford is refusing to join in the attacks but says he's confident about his own campaign funding.

I'm certainly not going to attack any other candidate in the election. The rules on campaign funding are the same for every candidate. I'm confident that my campaign has operated entirely within the rules and we'll ensure that we continue to do so.

Mark Drakeford AM

Eluned Morgan says she's confident about her campaign funding but also has a plea:

I am confident that funding sources for my campaign are legitimate. I could do with a bit more money to fund the campaign however, so if anyone would like to contribute - please get in touch!

Eluned Morgan AM