This is The Monday Line on Friday
By Denis G Campbell
(UPDATED) As the LibDems head into emergency conference at the weekend, former leader Kirsty Williams holds all the winning cards. By stepping down as Welsh party leader the day after being the only AM to win two weeks ago, she now has the ability to reshape Welsh politics… with or without the Liberal Democrats.
By negotiating with Labour 1st Minister Carwyn Jones, she can straddle or jump over a left leaning fence with little fear of personal loss.
If the LibDems in special session tomorrow say, “no, you cannot become the Education Cabinet Secretary,” she will likely bolt the party and join Labour. This makes sense because as the only LibDem Assembly member she cannot build a 1-person coalition for progressive programmes.
Now, with a Cabinet Secretary job in her vest pocket, she has options. If she did leave the Party to join Labour, Carwyn gets an early Christmas gift. He simultaneously inches closer to a majority and gets the diversity of a very strong young woman leader his Party needs to ensure a smooth future transition (especially as others ponder retirement from the Assembly in 2021). He has the ability in four years’ time to hand the reigns of the Party over to a respected ‘Labour ‘leader.
And why stay? It’s been a disappointing year for new LibDem federal party leader Tim Farron. He’s made good speeches but after a year in office, not many know him. The party has a cerebral fighter when what they really need is an MMA cage fighter to go after Cameron and Farage. If Kirsty were to leave, it would be a setback to the LibDems and… it might just wake them up to take this fight more seriously. No one likes the smartest kid in the room. But if that kid is also a winning athlete and fighter? New ball game.
Too, after the elections in Wales, Scotland, English local councils and London Mayor, many wondered aloud what the LibDem federal party in London was smoking? After losing 39 of 40 contests and EVERY list seat in Wales, the SPIN machine crowed about winning 34 English council seats as if the #LibDemFightback was working just fine? Nothing to see in Wales, everybody just move along.
As a LibDem candidate (and now former party member), I railed against the party’s weak sauce response to voter inchoate anger which became a rage conflagration. On the doorstep, voters were very angry about the party going into Government with the Tories and breaking their promise on tuition fees (in England).
For a full year though the Party was in denial and acted as if it that would not matter. They had all the answers. ‘Things would have been much worse were we not the Tories hand brake?’ Well, how’d that work for ya? LibDem candidates were torched in now two elections and they should have seen it coming.
Kirsty Williams is a savvy political pro. Why sit around and watch a ten year rebuild with a federal party leader who has not moved the dials, when one’s own career is climbing?
Even if the LibDems say ‘yes, join the Cabinet’ it just seems a matter of time before the next esoteric internal crisis. They/we proved in this last election, real change is impossible campaigning using a 1960s paper only model in 2016 (and likely the same in the 2017 Welsh local, 2020 Parliamentary or 2021 next Welsh Assembly elections) when the successful models use social, video and other media to reach voters.
Either way, Carwyn gets a very strong Cabinet Secretary and, perhaps, eventual successor candidate as 1st Minister on side and in time to build his Labour machine for the future.
A much better succession planning exercise than OK, “who’s up next?”