Thursday, 11 September 2014

Carwyn shuffles the deck

Contain yourselves, please.
(Pic : BBC Wales)
I was going to post a follow-up post on the NATO summit today, but that can wait until tomorrow or the weekend. There's actually been some political news in Wales that's not associated with the constitutional navel-gazing surrounding the Scottish referendum (though it's not as "exciting").

As I'm sure you're now aware, the First Minister has reshuffled his cabinet for the fourth time this term. His last full reshuffle was in March last year, while there were minor reshuffles in the aftermath of both Leighton Andrews' resignation and Alun Davies' (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) sacking in July.

A reshuffle has been on the cards since the shambolic end to the previous Assembly year. This hasn't come as a complete surprise, and it's as good a time as any to do it. It's just in time for the Assembly's return from summer recess on Monday, which makes the final paragraph of this post last week all the more prophetic.

Now it's time to take a look at who's in and who's out.

Minister for Public Services

New role
: Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda)

As one of Carwyn's closest allies, Leighton makes his much-expected return to the front benches in a new role. The First Minister says it'll involve delivering the proposals set out in the Williams Commission for local government reform. It's unclear if that includes control of local government itself.

In footballing terms, this sounds like a "free role".

Considering the resistance the proposals have faced in local government (more from me on that soon), pushing these reforms through needs a strong hand. As Education Minister, Leighton developed a reputation of being someone willing to upset the apple cart in the name of reform. This is Carwyn parking a tank on the lawn of Welsh local government. Time to get the popcorn....

Minister for Natural Resources

In : Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside)
Out : Role reassigned from Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower)

A sideward step for long-time cabinet stalwart, Carl Sargeant. Edwina Hart was never going to keep so many portfolios. He is, however, more than familiar with the planning system and that expertise would be useful as fracking intensifies, and as many opencast mining licences are up for renewal or authorisation.

Minister for Communities & Tackling Poverty

In : Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham)
Out : Jeff Cuthbert (Lab, Caerphilly)

With the pretty broad and unclear role of this portfolio, it's hard to tell if this is a demotion or not. Obviously a "tackling poverty" portfolio is very emotive, important in the current climate and headline-grabbing, but to date it's hasn't achieved much due to the rather ineffectual budget. That's changed significantly, with housing and regeneration added to this portfolio, which should give it a lot more importance as a cabinet position.

Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport & Tourism

New role : Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South)

I would've expected Ken to have been promoted to a full ministerial position as his performance as Deputy Minister for Skills has been pretty good. With tourism worth quite a bit to the Welsh economy, and sport/cultural affairs more high-profile, this position is marginally more important. I suppose you could say this is a promotion of sorts. You've got to presume the First Minister is retaining responsibility for the Welsh language.

Deputy Minister for Health

New role : Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth)

Another "shadow a more senior minister" role for Vaughan, and it's clear he's being groomed for a more significant cabinet position in the future. It's unclear precisely what this role will entail (like his previous position), but if there's any department that could do with extra ministerial support right now it's health.

Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology

In : Julie James (Lab, Swansea West)
Out : Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South)

"Julie who?" A bit of a surprise. Julie James appears to be well-respected in the committees, but I can't think of any real mark she's made at Assembly level. She's one of the least-active AMs during plenary sessions, but has been ramped up for a move to cabinet by "insiders", so clearly has something I haven't seen yet. I'll wait and see. There's nothing wrong with being quiet, and it's not as if she can remain so anymore.

So the revamped ministerial line-up looks like this :
  • First Minister – Carwyn Jones (Lab, Bridgend)
  • Minister for Finance & Leader of the House – Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan)
  • Minister for Economy, Business, Transport & Science – Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower)
  • Minister for Health & Social Services – Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)
  • Minister for Education & Skills – Huw Lewis (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
  • Minister for Public Services – Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda)
  • Minister for Communities & Tackling Poverty – Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham)
  • Minister for Natural Resources – Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside)
  • Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport & Tourism – Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South)
  • Deputy Minister for Health – Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth)
  • Deputy Minister for Farming & Food – Rebecca Evans (Lab, Mid & West Wales)
  • Deputy Minister for Skills & Technology – Julie James (Lab, Swansea West)
  • Chief Whip – Janice Gregory (Lab, Ogmore)
  • Counsel General - Theodore Huckle QC

Revolving Doors

He's back. And he's got local government in his sights.
(Pic : ITV Wales)
This was neither a non-event nor a major reorganisation of the Welsh Government to Westminster levels. Most of the familiar names and faces are still there.

The big stories here are that Leighton Andrews is back, and Jeff Cuthbert (Lab, Caerphilly), Gwenda Thomas (Lab, Neath) and John Griffiths (Lab, Newport East) have all left the cabinet.

The First Minister probably wanted someone with a higher-profile
(if such a thing exists in Welsh politics) and more ministerial experience for Communities & Tackling Poverty, and Jeff Cuthbert has subsequently announced he will stand down as an AM in 2016 – though he's leaving on good terms.

Gwenda Thomas has been a safe pair of hands, and passing the Social Services & Wellbeing Bill – something so complex it beggars belief – is a real achievement. This is probably a strong hint that she's also standing down in 2016, though I don't think there's anything official yet.

John Griffiths exiting cabinet is the closest thing to a "surprise" here. He's a well-known ally of Carwyn Jones and has always performed solidly, if not spectacularly, in his cabinet positions. You've got to wonder if this is a personal decision.

It's a minor surprise that neither of the two "great hopes" in Welsh Labour – Ken Skates and Vaughan Gething - made a jump up to a full ministerial position, only being offered "sidewards and slightly up" promotions instead. Perhaps the First Minister still feels they're a bit wet behind the ears.

This has been described as a "downsizing". I still think the cabinet and ministerial team is too big, and should be capped at 8 full ministers, no deputies (excluding Chief Whip and Counsel General) : First Minister, Finance, Economic Development, Environment, Health & Social Services, Communities, Culture, Education. If the Assembly gets bigger or gains more powers then more roles can be added.

You've got to wonder if this will be ministerial team that takes Welsh Labour into the 2016 elections, as Carwyn is averaging a reshuffle of sorts once every 10 months.


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