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Follow the leader

Betsan Powys | 21:26 UK time, Thursday, 15 October 2009

Let's start with the easy bit: the vast majority of Welsh Labour MPs want to see Carwyn Jones leading the party and leading the country. Before leaving London yesterday I had sixteen names next to his. They come in groups of three and four, they come in individuals who would think twice about crossing the bridge back to Wales if anyone else won. He is the runaway favourite of this crucial group of voters.

"Carwyn is my number one choice" one spiky character is reported to have said. "Edwina is my second. Huw is my fifteenth".

Another physically squirms at the thought of Edwina Hart winning. Her refusal in the past to appear before the Welsh Affairs Select Committee has gone down about as well as an offer from the Shadow Welsh Secretary to scrutinise any measures the Welsh Assembly Government may introduce in future on the Welsh language: "I merely make the suggestion". Cheryl Gillan was accused at yesterday's meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee of a crime we'll call 'trampling willy-nilly all over the legislative rights of the Assembly Government'. Edwina Hart is accused of treating Welsh MPs with disdain. Believe me: big no-nos in both cases.

Paul Murphy and Don Touhig, great friends in and out of parliament, have astounded some of their colleagues by endorsing Edwina Hart's campaign. Stunned is the word for two or three of them. Why on earth have they endorsed her? Well they've made it clear they want her to win because they can and have worked with her and her values are theirs ... I say.

Not good enough for some. For them it's a case of 'what the hell' are they up to. That sort of astonishment tends to bring out conspiracy theories and I heard a few yesterday. Number one: at heart Paul Murphy and Don Touhig hate "the project" (devolution and all it brings with it) and Carwyn Jones is far too closely aligned with "the project" to be trusted. In fact they hate it so much that they've voted for Edwina Hart because they think she's the most likely to make a mess of it and bring it into disrepute. Yes, really, that's the theory put to me from more than one direction. Discuss.

But let's move on from complex double bluffs and easy maths - a Carwyn Jones hands-down victory - to something else that struck me. There was a stark difference in attitude to the other two candidates.

Huw Lewis has huge fans in Westminster. He will get votes from the north, the west and the south east of Wales from colleagues who think he's got it right and has called it right for quite some time. But if you're not a huge fan, you think he's a loser. There are MPs who for all sorts of reasons would not back anyone who's thought of as a loser. That leaves Edwina Hart and while she commands huge disrespect amongst many of her Westminster colleagues, they're not sure she's a loser. They're afraid she might somehow or other be a winner. As far as their own votes go, I'm not sure that means anything very much. In all sorts of other ways, it might matter rather more.

Over the next few days the big unions will decide which candidate they're backing: Unison tomorrow, the even more massive Unite on Saturday. Union members don't have to vote according to the steer given by their leaders. How do they do vote will be reflected in the percentage of the vote each candidate gets. But look back to the deputy leadership campaign in which Peter Hain was involved and each time, I think I'm right in saying the majority went with the steer from the top.

What the leadership decides matters. More simple maths then: what is decided tomorrow and on Saturday matters a lot.


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