The one thing that was striking in conversations in the immediate aftermath of Carwyn’s resignation was that many of us felt the need to talk about not simply the mechanics of a leadership campaign but also about the wider challenges facing us as a party and as a movement.
At first sight an eight month election campaign makes even the most enthusiastic activist tremble with fear. But upon a more judicious consideration of the timetable allows a more stimulating and even inviting prospect. Carwyn, in his resignation, has given the party the one thing that very few political parties have the opportunity to exploit.
Carwyn had given us the gift of time.
Normally a leadership election is forced upon an unwilling leader and an unhappy party by the electorate after an election defeat. Even when Rhodri resigned back in September 2009 he did so in such a way as to enable a contest to take place immediately. Carwyn has done something different. He has given us a timetable for his resignation.
And this means we have an opportunity now to do something different. Maybe even something special and unique in politics.
We have the time and the space to have a debate before we actually need to have an election campaign. Over the coming months and until nominations open in September we have the opportunity to have a wide-ranging and open debate about the future of Welsh Labour and how we as a political movement respond to the enormous challenges facing us across Wales. From Brexit to populism to defeating austerity. How we campaign, how we involve people in our politics and how we organise ourselves.
And this is a debate that will better happen if it is not seen through the prism of which candidate from whatever wing of the party is taking a position on a particular issue. I fear that such considerations will lead to our debate being reduced to a tired and dispiriting conversation based upon preconceptions and some entertaining and usually misplaced Kremlinology. Some of my colleagues have already made the point there is no immediate need for potential candidates to worry about having a list of supporters. Whilst others are exercising themselves by writing and rewriting lists of Assembly members. My message is to relax. Lots can happen in a few months.
Whilst I accept that my optimism may be seen as an unexpected innocence in some quarters. And obviously I do understand and accept that some campaigning is inevitable. But I also hope that there will be a recognition that an exhausting election campaign which lasts eight months without this debate will let down the people who want and need a debate on the future direction of Welsh Labour.
By the time of the next election in 2021 we will have been in power for over twenty years. This is a testament to the roots of the party in Welsh communities and also the campaigning strength of the organisation. I do not believe for a moment that we should be shy or even slightly embarrassed by this electoral success. But I do believe that this success and longevity in government demands a fundamental and honest debate about our approaches to the questions that will face us in 2021 and beyond.
I wrote on this blog yesterday about some of the opportunities we have as a party in terms of our democracy review. For too long the party’s approach to determining our priorities for government have been driven by Members in Cardiff with little involvement of the wider party. I want to see this change. It is time to to acknowledge and recognise the role of our MPs, members, councillors, CLPs, and affiliated bodies.
I have been a strong supporter of the strengthening of Welsh Labour as a political party, movement and organisation for some years. All too often people misread this determination to create political structures which mirror the constitutional reality as a means of creating distance between ourselves in Wales and the UK structures in London. This has always been a mistaken belief.
The reason that I have supported the strengthening of Welsh Labour has been to create a more powerful and a more open political party which is able to both determine our policy outlook but also to create the means by which the wider party can hold ministers like myself to account. In this way my ambition is to widen the debate over our party’s political programme and deepening the democracy within the party. For instance, I want to see my approach on local government reform to be tested not only by Assembly Members and councillors but also our MPs and members, trades unions and affiliated bodies. Together we have a great deal of experience, knowledge and expertise across the whole of the party and movement and we are stronger when we maximise the input of this expertise into policy-making and holding Welsh Labour ministers to account.
On Monday I attended the latest meeting of the Valleys Taskforce. Our discussion was focussed on delivering digital services to communities which have all too often been excluded. Our last meeting discussed local transport priorities and our next will focus on automation and the opportunities for our economy from this revolution. As politicians in the valleys (and elsewhere) we are all aware of the populist politics of our opponents and their easy answers to difficult questions. The valleys have all seen swings to UKIP, Plaid and voted to leave the EU. Taken together these issues, and others, will define the political debates for the next few years. Communities across Wales are on the frontline of austerity. Well-fed and well-upholstered politicians in the bars and restaurants of Westminster may talk austerity but it is the people of Cwm, Rassau, Blaina and Nantyglo who feel its affects. Their lives pay for those politicians’ theories. And we, as Welsh Labour, need to stand up for those people.
But we also need to do more than that.
We need to find and articulate not only a well-placed anger but solutions. And sustainable solutions to deep-rooted problems. I told the National Assembly yesterday that we are not paid to list problems but to solve them. And in doing so we also need to be honest with ourselves.
And we can only do this with and through an open debate. Which takes us back to Carwyn. We are not facing an election and we are not recovering from one. The party is in good shape and and we can afford the time to talk. The Tories may believe that it’s impossible to drive through a programme of radical reform whilst having a serious conversation about the future but I do not. As a party we will be refreshed, united and reinvigorated by such a conversation.
Which, of course, is the real reason why they hate the idea of it.