I don’t envy the members of the Labour Party in the task of identifying a successor to Rhodri Morgan as Welsh leader. Whilst there seem to be plenty of potential runners, fewer are actually likely to make it into the final race, and the choice is far from being an easy one.
Some commentators have suggested that the new leader needs to be ‘Plaid-friendly’. Nonsense. By the time the leadership election happens, Plaid will be two years into a four year agreement. They have already shown a willingness to ditch any and every policy position in order to gain a seat in government, and even seem to be turning increasingly lukewarm on the central commitment to a referendum. They are not going to walk away from One Wales just because of a change of leadership within Labour.
(Just as a small parallel, if Plaid’s leader were to fall under a bus tomorrow, does anyone believe that being ‘Labour-friendly’ would be a criterion for choosing his successor? Of course not.)
As long as the new Labour leader does not actually repudiate One Wales, then neither will Plaid. And since the Labour Party approved the One Wales document in a special conference, I don’t see any of the potential candidates, in their first act as leader, being ready either to risk bringing down a Labour-led government or to ignore that conference decision.
But Labour do need a leader who is ‘voter-friendly’, and not just in the heartland areas to which they were largely reduced in May. That is not the same thing at all, although it does imply an ability, to some extent at least, to appeal to a wider spectrum of voters – including those who would otherwise be inclined to support Plaid.
Personally, I don’t see either Huw Lewis or Leighton Andrews, two of the potential candidates, being able to build Labour's support outside its core areas. Lewis might well be the best-placed to shore up his party's support in those areas and stop further erosion, but that is surely not the limit of the party's ambitions. And Andrews is doubly handicapped by being a convert from another party - Labour never really trust converts.
That seems to leave a choice between Carwyn Jones (the bookies’ front-runner, a fact which will surely tell against him), Andrew Davies, and the media-averse Edwina Hart. Seems to me it comes down to Jones or Davies, but they both seem so grey and uninspiring. Neither of them seem likely to strike a great deal of fear into the hearts of the other parties' leaders.
And perhaps that is the question which Labour’s members should be asking themselves – who would do most to frighten the other parties? I think they have a real problem finding any answer to that question.
PS – One of the silliest comments on the whole issue, albeit somewhat tangential to the point, must surely be that of Jonathan Morgan today, who says that if the Conservatives win the UK General Election, then the Welsh First Minister will have to form a working relationship with the Conservative Group, because their leader “will then have the ear of the Prime Minister”. Given the propensity of Cameron to completely ignore Bourne and Wales while he's leader of the opposition in London, why on earth would anyone believe that he'd pay any more attention to Bourne or Wales if he became PM?