by Ioan Phillips
Carwyn Jones reshuffles the pack with an eye to the future, but is it his to control?
Any discussion of Carwyn Jones’ Cabinet reshuffle in the current political climate will inevitably focus on the circumstances surrounding the dismissal, and subsequent death of Communities Secretary, Carl Sargeant.
Were it not for Mr Sargeant’s tragic suicide, the column inches would instead be analysing what was a comprehensive reshuffle.
Five AMs received promotions – among them the Independent AM and ex-Plaid Cymru leader, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas. The Culture, Tourism and Sport role is his first ministerial position in a career that has spanned nearly half a century.
The absorption of a former Plaid “big beast” into government serves as the ideal counter to Plaid’s decision last month to terminate its Compact with Labour. Taken against Kirsty Williams’ enduring Cabinet presence, it allows Mr Jones to plausibly maintain the strapline “Working Together for Wales”.
Another big talking point is Neath AM Jeremy Miles replacing Pontypridd’s Mick Antoniw as Counsel General – the post Mr Jones held before becoming First Minister in 2009. A staunch Corbynista, Antoniw’s removal has been interpretted by Welsh Labour insiders as an attempt by Mr Jones to try to ensure the leadership does not go to a figure from the left by promoting moderates.
This perspective is underscored by the return to Cabinet of former tobacco lobbyist and Iraq war supporter, Alun Davies. Sacked from the environment brief in 2014 for pressuring civil servants into providing private information about opposition AMs, Mr Davies will be hoping it is second time lucky as Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services.
The new Cabinet will be the first without Leader of the House and Chief Whip Jane Hutt. Her departure after 18 years at the top leaves the government shorn of its canniest negotiator. Hutt led coalition talks with the Liberal Democrats in 2000, and Plaid Cymru in 2007.
Three AMs from Labour’s 2016 intake – Hannah Blythyn, Eluned Morgan, and Huw Irranca-Davies have been given junior ministerial positions.
Mr Jones claimed the reshuffle would provide “new drive and energy”, but the two main opposition parties have been scathing.
“New names and new faces count for very little – positive outcomes are all that matter to the people of Wales. We need a change in ideology,” said Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies.
Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru Group Chair Dai Lloyd AM said: “Wales still does not have a government that will lift the country up the league tables and inspires people with its agenda”.
Welsh Labour’s record in power is subject to much debate. What no-one is debating is how this reshuffle has been done with a clear eye to a future – one without Mr Jones. The First Minister has previously stated that leaders have a natural expiry date of a decade. Confidants of Mr Jones seem to believe 2019 is his preferred departure date. However, it remains to be seen whether the arrival of the post-Jones era will be hastened by Mr Sargeant’s death.