Cablegate: Welsh Labour Elects New Leader

DE RUEHLO #2702/01 3371657
R 031657Z DEC 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 LONDON 002702



E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/03/2019

Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Greg Berry for reasons 1.4( b) and (d).

1. (SBU/NF) Summary: Carwyn Jones won an unexpectedly strong victory in the Welsh leadership election and will take over as First Minister for Wales on December 9. Jones will have to live up to the example set by outgoing First Minister Rhodri Morgan, who has held the post for all but a few months of its existence and enjoys extremely high approval ratings. Jones is a charismatic politician, but at only 42 years old he has not been tested. But Welsh voters will not have to wait long to see what kind of leader he is. In the 18 months before the next Welsh elections he will need to make tough decisions on devolution and public spending in addition to taking his struggling party into a UK-wide general election. End Summary.

2. (U) The Welsh Labour Party announced on December 1 that it had elected Carwyn Jones as its new leader. Jones has been seen for years as the most likely candidate to succeed current First Minister Rhodri Morgan, but he won by a considerably higher margin than most had expected. Facing challengers Edwina Hart and Huw Lewis, he won over 50 percent of the votes of each of the three sections of the Welsh Labour electoral college: Assembly Members and MPs, Labour-affiliated unions, and rank-and-file members.

3. (SBU/NF) Jones was considered more of a mainstream candidate than Hart or Lewis, both of whom struck a more traditionally Welsh socialist tone in their campaigns. Lewis was always seen as an outsider, but made a good impression during the race and will emerge with enhanced political clout. Hart has the reputation of a capable administrator but she made a number of political blunders that turned off Welsh MPs, Welsh speakers, rural voters in the West and North, and parents who send their children to faith schools. The top brass of a number of labor unions backed her publicly, but the rank and file voted decisively for Jones. The finally tally was 52 percent for Jones, 29 percent for Hart, and 19 percent for Lewis.

Jones Faces Tough Challenges ----------------------------

4. (SBU/NF) Because Labour is the senior partner of the governing coalition, Carwyn Jones is slated to become First Minister on December 9 (barring an extremely unlikely Assembly maneuver against). He will face a number of key issues in the coming months: * Devolution: The governing Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition promised in 2007 to hold a popular referendum on devolving more law-making powers from London to Cardiff by 2011. However, the Labour party is divided on the issue. One of the keys to Jones's victory was the support of Welsh Labour MPs, but they appear to be resistant to keeping the promise to hold a referendum. (Note: The MPs say they do not support a referendum because they think devolution will lose. Critics say the MPs do not want to give up power to the National Assembly.) Jones managed to remain ambiguous on a referendum during the campaign but the upcoming schedule of elections and Assembly recesses mean a decision must be made within about six months. Starting his administration by breaking his party's referendum promise is politically dangerous but moving forward with the vote risks alienating his key political backers. * General Elections: Current polling shows Labour entering the 2010 UK general elections behind the Conservatives. Labour holds 29 out of 40 Welsh seats in Westminster, but some current estimates say they could lose ten or more seats. Jones will have to take responsibility for the election result. * Budgetary Pressures: The UK is facing a major budgetary squeeze and the Welsh economy is disproportionately dependent on the government sector. Jones will preside over difficult cuts to government spending, which will be especially unpopular in Wales, with its tradition of social-democratic government. * Filling Rhodri's Shoes: Rhodri Morgan took over as Welsh Labour leader in February 2000 riding a popular backlash against the efforts of Tony Blair and then (and current) Secretary of State for Wales Peter Hain to hand-pick a New Labour candidate. Even after ten years, he remains extraordinarily popular and everything Jones does will necessarily be compared to Morgan. The burden on Jones will be even greater if Labour loses in Westminster in 2010 since that would leave Wales as the only elected government in the UK led by Labour. LONDON 00002702 002 OF 002

Biographic Note ---------------

5. (SBU/NF) Carwyn Howell Jones was born March 21, 1967 in Swansea, Wales and raised in a Welsh-speaking household in Bridgend, Wales. He became interested in politics during the 1985 miners' strikes. Thatcher's strike-busting policies plunged South Wales' coal-mining valleys into an economic decline from which they still have not recovered. Jones studied law at Aberystwyth University and practiced in Bridgend from 1989 until being elected to the National Assembly in 1999. In 2000 he was appointed Minister for Agriculture. He deftly handled the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease crisis, and emerged as the front-runner to be Labour's next leader. Since that time, he has managed to avoid any major miscues and, with the benefit of youth, has never appeared too eager to boot out Rhodri Morgan and take power. He became Counsel General for the National Assembly in 2007, which allowed him public visibility but did not force him to make controversial decisions.

6. (SBU/NF) Jones is a telegenic public speaker. He is a devoted family man and rugby fan who looks polished in a business suit but has a common touch. His fluent Welsh enables him to connect to elements of the electorate who might gravitate to Plaid Cymru (the left-of-Labour Welsh Nationalist Party) while the business community clearly favored him over other Labour politicians who were seen as reflexively hostile to business. Some in the National Assembly halls have suggested he is not a hard worker and shies away from tough decisions. Labour may have been looking for a charismatic leader with a centrist message to combat the Tories and the hipper, more media-savvy Plaid Cymru political machine. Jones fits this bill better than anyone else in Welsh Labour.

7. (C/NF) Comment: The Welsh Assembly has no power over foreign affairs, so Jones's views on foreign policy will not have a great impact on UK policy. He opposed Britain's participation in the Iraq war and has criticized UK Labour's handling of the Afghanistan war. His greatest influence on foreign policy will be through further devolution, which could shake up Westminster policy-making. That, however, is far off. Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX

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