Without warning today the Labour Party – suddenly and dramatically – was forced to confront the fact that it had lost control of the Welsh Assembly and Labour Leader Carwyn Jones found that half the AMs in the Assembly did not want him to continue to serve as First Minister.
A pincer movement by all the opposing parties – except the Lib Dems – crunched the former First Minister in its claws in what had been expected to be a mere formality – a vote confirming Carwyn Jones in his incumbent position. It didn’t work out like that.
Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and UKIP banded together and voted for Leanne Wood instead as First Minister. The result was a deadlock – and a tie at 29 votes to 29
It was a bitter humiliation for Labour which has long been criticised for its “smug” attitude to opposing parties and its presumption of entitlement to run Wales .
Labour AMs had assumed that they would be running run the Welsh Government and they would be automatically placing their leader Carwyn Jones into his customary position as First Minister. It was not to be.
Plaid AM Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “The people of Wales decided by a narrow margin in terms of the number of seats, but by a hefty margin in terms of the popular vote, that they didn’t want Labour to have majority control in the National Assembly for Wales.”
Penarth AM and Welsh Conservative Leader Andrew RT Davies said the Labour Party “had no divine right” to assume Carwyn Jones would be elected first minister after its share of the vote fell.
He said it was for Assembly members to explore, and discuss the best way forward for the Welsh nation, which had – for too long – fallen behind the rest of the UK.
UKIP AMs were even more forthright . A UKIP source said his party wanted “to dent the level of smugness within the Labour Party” and had been pleased to support Leanne Wood in today’s vote.
In a Westminster Hall committee hearing on steel this afternoon Stephen Doughty ( Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth) almost seemed to deliver a political obituary for Carwyn Jones.
He said “I wanted also to praise Carwyn Jones, the First Minister for the leadership he showed in recent months”
Doughty went onto say “ I think he [Carwyn Jones] really was head and shoulders above and it is deeply concerning to hear in the last 10 minutes that apparently the Conservatives, Plaid and UKIP have voted together to block his reappointment as First Minister, – which is a quite extraordinary situation when we have such crises, such as the steel crisis when we need a First Minister in Wales to get back on with tacking”
The Assembly now has 28 days to sort out some arrangements for the governance of Wales for the next 5 years.
There was a humiliating rebuff too for controversial veteran Plaid Cymru AM Lord Elis Thomas today when his bid to be elected Speaker – or “Llywydd“- of the Welsh Assembly was also roundly rejected by members. The Llywydd is one of the highest-paid jobs in the Assembly and is paid a salary of £105,000 a year
The Assembly instead voted for Ceredigion AM Elin Jones to become Speaker to succeed Rosemary Butler who was stepping down after 5 years in the role.
Lord Elis Thomas (69) had officiated as Speaker in the first Assembly from 1999 to 2011 – but most AMs had evidently decided they didn’t want him back .