Changing of the guard

Five factors seem to be at work in understanding today’s Cabinet reshuffle. The painfully slow process – and perhaps particularly personally painful for some – played out at such a pace that for once the Welsh Government offices in Cathays Park would have been full on a Friday afternoon. Yet there seems to be a series of specific motivations behind the moves.

The most obvious is the change of generations. Out after eighteen years goes Jane Hutt, the longest serving Labour minister in UK history. Her record is mighty and proud. She may well appear like a ghost in the back of the new team photo, such is the length of her involvement. Her demise has been speculated at every reshuffle for over a decade but it seems her departure was done by mutual consent. That phrase has also been used to describe another departure, of which more later. Can it also be said to apply to Mick Antoniw, the popular and effective Counsel General? To my mind he has been the most political and effective person to ever hold that office and there’s something unfair to see him lose the role he so clearly relished.

The second clear motivator is the desire to bring in new blood. The class of ’16 were never, as some suggested in social media, going to walk into Cabinet jobs either last year or this year. Huw Irranca-Davies, Hannah Blythyn, Eluned Morgan and Jeremy Miles have all earned their right foot spurs over eighteen months, now is their chance to earn their left foot ones. Each has a chunky enough portfolio to keep them occupied. But what does their promotion mean to others on the Labour backbenches like Hefin David and Lee Waters? It also must surely signal David Rees and Mike Hedges will never enter government, having been effectively generationally leapfrogged.

Linked to this is the newest old blood of all, Dafydd Elis Thomas who, after nearly half a century of public service, gets to be a minister at last. And Minister for Fun too. Culture, Tourism and Sport is all the lolz and none of the awkward dealing with the controversial Welsh language legislation. And it completes his morphing into a loyal member of the Labour benches, a process that began in shadow form in the 1970s.

Fourthly, we have the restructuring of portfolios to bring greater focus and greater clarity to specific aspects of government. The clear winner is here is Alun Davies, who gets a huge department in terms of Public Services, and now has wiped the record clean of the career stall of a few years ago. Mark Drakeford also gets to spend more time with his accounts and especially the European ones. To have designated him Brexit Secretary would have damaged the First Minister, who does half that job these days. It does look like Wales has its top team on Brexit and also dealing with the thorny issue of local government reform.

And finally, Carl Sargeant has left government in the most damaging way I can recall. Known for being a stalwart fixer and for steering more legislation than any other government member in the past six years, his passing will not be marked with the usual twitter plaudits to a departing and popular minister. Accused of misconduct, he has had the Labour whip suspended and is awaiting a disciplinary hearing.  The difficulty of this final motivation will have made it very difficult for many ministers to smile in a group photograph this evening.