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The dust is beginning to settle, the politicians are rested and refreshed and this is the week in which decisions will be taken which will have long-term consequences for Welsh politics.

I expect to see some movement by the end of Monday from Carwyn Jones about how he intends to deal the hand he’s been dealt. It’s a strong hand but the fact that he’s one seat short of a majority means it’ll need all his skill and strategy to play it.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts about what’s changed for each of the parties and speculation about what might happen next.

LABOUR

The Assembly group will need extremely strong discipline if it’s to sustain minority government over the next five years. Carwyn Jones has said that there is a range of options open to him from doing deals on a case-by-case basis, to more formal ‘supply and confidence’ arrangements or full coalition.

It’s pointless to speculate which he or his party prefers at this stage because there are so many variables that need to be taken into account. They’ll become clearer over the coming days.

For the party, even at this moment of success, there’s a longer-term question that won’t be answered for some time yet.

Poor electoral performances in 2007, 2009 and 2010 led to a great deal of soul-searching as a number of senior Labour figures suggested something was particularly wrong with Welsh Labour that needed fixing. Nobody’s asking the question now and it was clear during the campaign that the party is re-invigorated with a young and dynamic team now in charge of party operations.

However, it was only a year ago that Labour achieved its worst share of the vote in Wales since 1983. What it must demonstrate over the next few years is that the improvements are real and lasting and not dependent on a Tory bogeyman in Westminster.

CARWYN JONES

Something that’s been overlooked in post-election commentary is how much of a personal victory and validation this is for the Welsh Labour leader.

He already had an overwhelming mandate from his party when he was elected leader, but now he has the strong endorsement of the country. I think this is far more important than we on the outside realise.

There have always been those within his party who’ve grumbled that he’s lazy, too close to Plaid, and just plain lucky. A successful campaign which has shown how much of an asset he’s become to the party; confident performances in TV debates and the ringing endorsements of his UK party leadership has silenced those critics.

CABINET

Who will be in Carwyn Jones’ cabinet? Expect to see election mastermind Leighton Andrews rewarded with a significant role although not necessarily a different one. Pre-election he showed every intention of taking on the problem of education over an extended period. For similar reasons, Edwina Hart could well stay on in health. It’s surely time that long-term ally John Griffiths became a cabinet minister.

Labour’s manifesto hints at the possibility of a smaller cabinet. Certainly it points to a beefed-up role for Carwyn Jones himself, with a First Minister’s Delivery Unit and the FM taking on responsibility for economic development and energy policy. That could mean merging some departments. I should say that one senior Labour figure I discussed this with, dismissed the idea of a smaller cabinet saying,’why would you want more backbenchers?’

PLAID CYMRU

It quickly became clear during the campaign that Labour had taken many of Plaid’s best tunes and was belting them out with gusto. Plenty of internal and external critics are drawing unfavourable comparisons with the SNP’s campaign in Scotland.

There’s bound to be a question over the leadership of Ieuan Wyn Jones. But Plaid may think it needs to work out what went wrong before settling on a new leader.

What messages should it take from the SNP’s stunning victory in Scotland? Should it be more bold about independenceChange its name? But surely another lesson from the Scottish election is that Labour’s strategy of making the Welsh election part of a UK battle between Labour and the Conservatives may have failed in Scotland but worked here in Wales. That could well justify Plaid’s caution over talking about independence although it could be argued that Plaid’s role should now be to lead the debate and shape opinion.

The other question is whether or not it can do all this in government. Ieuan Wyn Jones has apparently told his party that it should go into government at every available opportunity. If he follows through with this policy (and if he’s in a position to do so), can his party do the job of holding an inquest, changing its approach, possibly changing its leader  – at the same time?

CONSERVATIVES

In the short term the Conservatives have a specific task – to choose a new leader who can continue the progress made under Nick Bourne. Who will get the job? Acting leader Paul Davies has to be in with a chance. Darren Millar must be a good bet. Andrew Davies wants it. Don’t rule out Angela Burns or Nick Ramsay standing.

If the Assembly group agrees on one candidate, AMs alone will have be responsible for choosing the next leader. If there’s more than one candidate, I gather the wider party votes, a situation which is thought to favour Andrew Davies.

On Thursday Alun Cairns MP said the election saw the return of two-party politics to Wales. That may be overstating it but, as the now-former leader Nick Bourne said in his interview with me, the campaign certainly was polarised.  In that same interview he speaks about his 12-year task of reinventing the Welsh Conservatives, taking them to the centre-ground of Welsh politics, ground that means more of the ‘Cymrufication’ – who would best take that legacy on?

I also asked him if it was time the party formalised that process by creating a formal Welsh party leader role – Nick Bourne has always been leader of the Conservative Assembly group rather than the party at large. He said that was a decision for the party, as was choosing a leader which is why he wouldn’t endorse any of the candidates. He also refused to speculate on the chance that he might become Lord Bourne.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

Speculation is rife that some sort of deal with the Liberal Democrats is Labour’s preferred option. It’s often coupled with the rather cynical explanation that it would take less to win them over than it would Plaid. But as one senior Lib Dem put it to me, ‘Kirsty’s nobody’s cheap date.’

What’s more, despite everything, Kirsty Williams is in a better position than many predicted. Yes, it was a bad election for her party but there are still five Lib Dem AMs which gives them a foundation from which to rebuild.

I’m told that within the party, the leader is praised for recognising how difficult the election would be and dealing with it as effectively as possible. More importantly, it’s said that she’s trusted by party members to be open about any arrangements she may or may not reach with Labour and not to sign the party up to any deal it could be uncomfortable with.

She’s said that her priority is to promote the priorities the Lib Dems set out during the election, and is open-minded about how that’s achieved

PRESIDING OFFICER

There’s a good deal of confusion over this with even some quite experienced Assembly hands expressing the view that having a Presiding Officer from an opposition party would give Labour a majority of one. It won’t. The Assembly’s standing orders are clear: if the PO comes from the opposition, the Deputy has to come from the government party and vice versa. Their votes are (generally) taken out of the equation thus taking the situation back to stalemate.

The Assembly could decide to suspend the rules so that both PO and DPO come from opposition parties which would have the effect of giving Labour a 2-seat majority. But to do that requires a two thirds majority, i.e. 40 AMs must vote for it. That means Labour would need the support of either the Conservatives or Plaid Cymru to do it. Why would either or those want to make life any easier for Carwyn Jones?

Who’s in the running for both posts? Dafydd Elis-Thomas must still be a consideration, even though all the hints from him and from other Assembly figures suggest he won’t be returning to the Chair. The current Deputy, Labour’s Rosemary Butler is a strong possibility for the top job. The Conservative Angela Burns (if she doesn’t run for her party’s leadership) is thought to be interested. Her colleague David Melding has already said he’s not standing. For the Liberal Democrats, Peter Black has done the job from time to time.

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From partner to passenger. That’s what Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones became in the words of Welsh Labour spokespeople today.

Mr Jones has been Economic Development minister as well as Deputy First Minister for the last four years of coalition government in Cardiff Bay.

And when asked to list his achievements, he frequently points to the ProAct and ReAct schemes to help businesses cope with the economic crisis.

But Labour said today he shouldn’t. The party’s Vaughan Gething said that both schemes were ‘driven through by Labour ministers from inception’ and that the former First Minister Rhodri Morgan ensured that responsibilities for delivering the schemes remained with Labour ministers.

I asked him for clarity. Was he saying that Plaid ministers, and in particular the  Plaid minister responsible for economic matters, had nothing to do with ProAct and ReAct

Ieuan Wyn Jones was in the room. He took part in the summits, but there clearly Welsh Labour leadership. Plaid trying to claim credit for ProAct and ReAct is like a bus passenger claiming credit for driving the bus.

Plaid won’t take this lying down. A spokesman said it was simply wrong to claim anything other than that Mr Jones and his department were right at the heart of both schemes.

Plaid acknowledges that both parties were jointly responsible for delivering both schemes.

But the spokesman said that  Ieuan Wyn Jones not only delivered them but ‘drove them from the start.’

UPDATE 1355 I’ve just had a formal response from Plaid:

Labour is now reduced to making ridiculous claims about Plaid’s record in government in order to avoid talking about their record of failure over the past 12 years. Wales’ children are being left behind due to Labour’s mismanagement of our education system. We can’t afford 5 more years of Labour failure.

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When he stands up to deliver his budget tomorrow (Wednesday), the Chancellor George Osborne will do so in very bleak circumstances.

The military is engaged in a new conflict which will have to be paid for whilst at home, the latest figures show inflation is rising and borrowing higher than anticipated.

All of which gives Mr Osborne very little room for manouevre, let alone to deliver what David Cameron predicted last week would be ‘the most pro-growth budget in a generation.

Almost certainly it will disappoint Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru. Both parties have made their wishlists known.

Labour says it wants Mr Osborne to reverse the planned VAT increase on fuel and it may get some joy here. It’s expected the Chancellor will ‘do something’ to ease rising fuel prices which could inlcude postponing the VAT increase.

Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru have both called on the Chancellor to reform the way Wales is funded. Fat chance of that happening.

Plaid also wants the Treasury to overturn an earlier decision to prevent the Assembly Government spending unused money at the end of the financial year. Again: fat chance.

Most likely Wales can expect to see no specific spending but rather the knock on effect of increased spending in England on apprenticeships, colleges and schools.

There’s been plenty of speculation  over the last few days, some of which seems better-informed than others. Let me add to it.

A possible merger of national insurance and income tax. There have been a lot of hints about this and there have been many calls for it to happen over the years. It’s thought to be extremely complicated to do and throws up a number of questions such as what happens to pensioners who pay no National Insurance? And what about employer’s contributions? What’s most likely is that Mr Osborne will signal the beginning of the process.

Income tax threshold. Last year the level at which you start paying tax was raised from £6,475 to £7,475. It’s likely to be raised at least to £8,000 in line with the coalition government’s aim of raising it to £10,000. But it’s also likely that the level at which people pay higher rate (40%) tax will be brought DOWN to pay for it.

Corporation tax. There’s some speculation tonight that Mr Osborne has a surprise tax cut planned and that it could be corporation tax which he cuts.

Pensions. At the moment, those whose state pension is below the minimum income guarantee (about £140) are eligible for benefits which bring it up to that level.  Bringing the basic level of pension up to that level would be a way of generating good headlines and stopping those pensioners from feeling like benfits claimants.

Fuel. As I mentioned, there have been very strong hints that the Chancellor will ease the burden on motorists by postponing or reducing the fuel duty increase planned for next month. Watch too for a possible answer to a request from the Wales Office that rural parts of Wales are included in a pilot scheme

Cigarettes and alcohol. You can expect a 17p increase on a packet of 20 cigarettes. Look for 3p per pint on strong lagers but a possible cut in duty on low-strength beer.

Troops. A possible £250 pay rise for 50,000 troops earning less than £21,000.

Online CD selling. A loophold which allows VAT-free CDs, DVDs etc to be imported from the Channel Islands is expected to be closed. That could mean up to £2 extra on such online CDs.

We’ll know soon enough. Remember, if these predictions come true, you read them here. If they don’t: nothing to do with me guv.

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Sharp End is back tonight at 1035pm ITV1 Wales and there’s more than enough to talk about.

Now that the referendum campaign is over, fragile cross-party consensus in Welsh politics is beginning to break down.

Senior Labour figures are attacking the Plaid Cymru ministers who share government with fellow Labour politicians in Cardiff Bay and at the same time exposing tensions within their own party.

And Plaid Cymru politicians are criticising the record of the Assembly Government their party has been involved in for the last four years.

Where will it all end? In one way that’s easy to answer: May 5th when the Assembly election is held.

But what happens afterwards is less easy to answer.

The latest YouGov poll for ITV Wales is out today with some clues for the parties. It’s good news for Labour, but what does that mean for the way the campaign will be conducted?

I’ve interviewed the United States ambassador, Louis Susman, who’s been paying a diplomatic visit to the Assembly. I’ve asked him about the trade relationship between Wales and the US and in particular where that relationship may be a bit strained.

For example, last month the European plane manufacturer EADS (which makes wings for Airbus planes in Flintshire) lost out to the  on a chance to supply the US Air Force with aerial fuel tankers. Was that protectionism?

I also wondered what he makes of devolution. The notorious ‘Welsh wikileak’ suggests previous American diplomatic information about the modern Wales was a little bit shaky. Has it improved?

Following International Women’s Day, Lynn Courtney has been taking stock of the role of women in Welsh politics. You can see her film tonight.

To discuss all these things I’ll be joined by the Labour MP Julie Morgan, the Plaid Cymru candidate Heledd Fychan and the Conservative AM, Andrew RT Davies.

Join us for Sharp End 1035pm ITV1 Wales.

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It’s a war of words that gets to the heart of the way the two parties which form the One Wales coalition government distinguish themselves after four years of working together.

I’m told there’s real anger and very red faces amongst Labour leaders in Cardiff Bay and some backbench AMs in Cardiff Bay following Peter Hain’s latest intervention.

It started when the Shadow Welsh Secretary responded to comments made by the Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, about the future of the Wales Office. The Plaid Cymru leader said there should be ‘a mature debate’ about it.

Mr Hain issued a statement saying,

Ieuan Wyn Jones wants a discussion that goes wider than the future of the Wales Office.

I think we need to have a mature debate about the future role of the Welsh Deputy First Minister.

Can you really justify having a Deputy First Minister in an Assembly Cabinet of only nine?

It is difficult, I think, in the long-term to justify having a Deputy First Minister in the Welsh Assembly Government as ineffective as Ieuan Wyn Jones.”

I put those remarks to the Deputy First Minister who brushed them aside saying

Well I don’t think I want to respond to any personal comments like that. I think it is totally inappropriate for me to do so.

But it was the bald statement that the First Minister and leader of Welsh Labour, Carwyn Jones,made immediately afterwards that was most interesting. He said,

I don’t have any ineffective ministers in my Government.

You can’t get much clearer a response than that.  ‘A very public slapdown’ to Peter Hain’ as the Conservative leader Nick Bourne put it later.

But there was more. Carwyn Jones asserted his authority saying,

I am the leader of the Welsh Labour party. It’s my role to speak on behalf of the party.

And it didn’t end there. A Labour party source pointedly told me that Ed Miliband is the UK party leader and Carwyn Jones speaks on matters devolved to Wales before adding,

The future of the Wales office is not a devolved matter.

Some Plaid sources and other commentators have called this a power struggle within Welsh Labour and in one sense it is.

But it’s not a struggle for the top job; rather it’s a fight over the way Labour and Plaid emphasise the difference between themselves ahead of May’s Assembly election.

There are those within Labour who think that, while the One Wales coalition was a necessity, that the relationship between the two parties in Cardiff Bay has become too cosy.

Speaking at their joint press briefing today, Carwyn Jones and Ieuan Wyn Jones both emphasised that they want an orderly separation before May 5th and to avoid personal attacks.

As one Labour backbencher put it to me today, interventions like this don’t help.

It’s connected to another division within Labour that I mentioned in an earlier post at the time of the party’s Llandudno conference and that’s what is considered to be the minimum number of AMs Labour needs after May to avoid going into coalition again.

There’s a strong view amongst some Welsh Labour members that the party should certainly go it alone if it wins 31 seats, but should seriously consider forming a minority government with 30, 29 or even 28 seats.

In my earlier post, I quoted one party figure as saying

Nobody said government should be easy.

But around the Bay I’ve heard said repeatedly – and I’ve heard it again today – that 31 is too few to form a stable majority government.

A backbencher told me today they remembered with horror the last time Labour governed alone with 30 AMs:

You can’t be ill, ministers can’t go on visits, there’s no slack.

A minister told me that a coalition with 31 seats would be ‘a hard sell’ to the party but there’s no doubt there’s a significant number within Labour who’d prefer a large majority coalition, One Wales II in other words.

But there’s just as significant a number who want that to be the very last resort.

There’s a clear difference here and it’s not – in public at least – between the two parties.

As one Plaid source said to me, ‘it’s ironic: everyone was thinking there’d be increasing strains within the coalition. It seems the strains are appearing elsewhere.’

 

UPDATE 16:55 Carwyn Jones and Peter Hain have now issued a joint statement setting out what they CAN agree on.  Here it is:

The blunt truth is that although there are four parties in Welsh politics, there are only two futures for Wales. A country that is fair and equal with Labour, or a Wales that faces death by a thousand Conservative and Lib Dem cuts.

People in Wales understand that this is the real choice in this election. They want to hear about our plans to provide jobs for young people, to protect policing in Wales from Tory cuts and to improve the NHS. This is what we are focusing on and will continue to focus on until May 5th.

We are committed to protection of Welsh representation in both Government and Parliament at Westminster. Especially at a time when Wales is under greater attack than ever before this is vital.

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It’s been a hectic day at Welsh Labour’s annual conference here in Llandudno. I’m not claiming this blogpost as comprehensive coverage of it, but it should give you a flavour of what it’s been like here.

By the way, Twitter comes into its own at occasions like this and that’s certainly been true today. Take this as a shameless invitation for you to follow me if you don’t already – my account name is adrianmasters84.

The big name of the day was party leader Ed Miliband who came to tell Welsh delegates to campaign for a Yes vote in the Assembly powers referendum (a message which wouldn’t have necessarily been welcomed here in the past but was this time  – with some exceptions) and to do all they could to win a majority for Labour in the Assembly election.

Interviewing Ed Miliband on Llandudno prom

But he said they should use May’s election to ‘send a message’ to David Cameron’s UK government – a message that has been announced loudly and clearly at this conference. I asked Mr Miliband if that didn’t undermine Welsh Labour’s attempts to fight the Assembly election on its own records. The election can be about both, he said but expect some criticism of that approach from the other parties in Cardiff Bay, particularly Plaid Cymru.

Ed Miliband’s speech was well-received in the hall and one or two senior politicians told me they thought he showed much improvement.

There was a little criticism of his decision to devote a portion of his speech to attack what he said was the UK Government’s plan to privatise large chunks of the NHS.

In particular his line that the plans amounted to taking the ‘N’ out of ‘NHS’ caused some consternation. “I thought we’d already done that with devolution,’ one delegate said to me.

That criticism of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley certainly made one person sit up: Andrew Lansley himself.

So incensed was he by the claims coming from Mr Miliband and in particular the location – talking about the English NHS in Wales – that he decided to take action. Since he was spending time on Anglesey it wasn’t much hardship to hop in the car to Llandudno.

He certainly made an impact – amongst journalists and politicians that I spoke to, none of us can recall as similar occasion when a Cabinet member, a Secretary of State, has turned up at the venue of another party’s conference to put their point of view.

A surprise appearance by Conservative Health Secretary Andrew Lansley at Labour's Welsh conference, Llandudno

In one of many jibes at the Labour leader, Mr Lansley told me he’s often staying with family in Wales. “I’m in North Wales more often than Ed Miliband,” he said.

We’d been so surprised by the call to say that the Health Secretary would like to meet us on the prom that we half-expected it to turn out to be a Labour stunt.

On the way we were scanning the distance to see if we could spot him. ‘There he is,’ I said – ‘Tall man, white haired. Oh no that’s Paul Murphy.’

When I told Mr Murphy this later he confessed he’d spotted the Health Secretary on the other side of the road and, stopping in his tracks, said to his assistant, ‘That looks like Andrew Lansley. It can’t be. Why would Andrew Lansley be in Llandudno?’

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I’m writing this as I sit in the bay window of my hotel in Llandudno. I’m here for Welsh Labour’s annual conference which it’s fair to say is an important one for the party at a UK level as well as here in Wales.

View of Llandudno prom from my hotel.

As a sign of just how important, UK leader, Ed Miliband, has already arrived here this afternoon. He’ll be at a rally for a referendum Yes vote tonight and will be making a speech to the conference tomorrow.

It’s important to him because he needs Labour to do well in Wales on May 5th to show that the long climb back from last year’s General Election defeat is well underway.

Of course, doing well in May is important in itself to Welsh Labour which believes it’s capable of winning an outright majority of seats.

So Llandudno is Labour’s launchpad. By the end of the weekend we’ll know what the party will promise voters during the campaign.

Already this week, it’s unveiled pledges to make it easier for working people to see their GPs and funding for work placements.

There’s been another pledge today to create 500 extra community support officers.

Add in a further two promises which are expected over the course of the weekend and we’ll know what Welsh Labour’s Big Five are. It’s not yet clear whether or not these will appear on a pledge card, but you get the picture.

What won’t be discussed, publicly at least is what happens AFTER the election. As I mentioned, Labour’s leaders believe they can win a majority of seat in the next Assembly.

Where they differ amongst themselves is what having that majority would allow them to do when it comes to forming a government, either alone or with another party.

I’ve been given directly contradictory views. On the one hand, there are those who think a coalition would be necessary if Labour were to win 29 or 30 seats and desirable even if it were to win 31 seats. These are the people who think the arrangement with Plaid Cymru has worked well, delivering stable, strong and leftish government of the sort they’d like to see again.

But there are others who think Labour should seek to govern alone, certainly with 31, but also if it has 30, 29 or even 28 seats. This is the school of thought that also believes that, if Labour finds itself in need of a coalition partner, it should talk to the Liberal Democrats first.

One insider told me that party members would accept another coalition with Plaid only if it were ‘absolutely necessary’ and expressed the feeling that some Labour AMs were attracted to a voluntary arrangement because a large majority in the Assembly chamber would make life easier and ‘nobody said governing should be easy.’

An interesting divergence of opinion in private then, but I wonder how much we’ll see expressed in public here in Llandudno.

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