Wales politics

2016: A year of political drama in Wales and beyond

Leave campaigners celebrate in Caerphilly
Image caption Leave campaigners celebrate in Caerphilly as the area is one of many to vote for Brexit

It was an extraordinary year by any standards.

The Welsh Brexit vote and all its implications dominated the political scene.

The referendum result came after such an intense campaign it seemed to cast the entire assembly election into the long and distant memory.

The long-held perception among many that Wales was a pro-EU part of the UK was way off the mark.

The level of negativity, bordering on antagonism from the public towards the European Union, was a striking feature of virtually all of the reports I did in the build-up to the vote.

I must have asked the inevitable question hundreds of times: what about all of the regional aid?

The answers ranged from "it's our money anyway" to others questioning how a new road or a job-creation scheme was improving their lives.

Whatever the merits of these claims - and the arguments are still raging - the basic fact was that too many people did not value EU investment in Wales and found the "take back control" message highly appealing.

Image caption David Cameron and Carwyn Jones joined forces to push the pro-EU case

Looking back, the signs were there for the Leave victory.

Its rallies and ground operation had a buzz about them which the Remain side struggled to match, even when the kitchen sink was thrown at the campaign in the latter stages with David Cameron and Carwyn Jones sharing a stage at a call centre in Cardiff.

The EU referendum was so all-encompassing in the first half of 2016 that it made it difficult for the assembly campaign to gain any traction.

One of the big fears the parties had was confusion on the doorstep, so most of the parties were disciplined in not bringing up EU-related matters on the ground or in the set-piece debates.

I suspect that, with the benefit of hindsight, many on the remain side now wish they took the opportunity to bang the drum for the EU while they had the opportunity.

Image copyright Plaid Cymru
Image caption Plaid Cymru celebrates Leanne Wood winning the Rhondda seat from Labour

Leanne Wood's victory over Leighton Andrews and the arrival of seven UKIP AMs at the Senedd were big moments, but equally significant was the failure of the Welsh Conservatives to win a single marginal seat against Labour.

This allowed Labour's numbers to creep up to 29 and to put them in the driving seat to form a new government, although Plaid's challenge of Carwyn Jones' nomination was a pretty hefty speed bump along the way.

The dramatic opening few weeks of the new assembly term settled down quickly as Labour's Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford and Plaid's Adam Price took the heat out of the situation.

Image caption Carwyn Jones had to wait a week to be re-instated first minister after the first vote was tied

As we head into 2017, the Labour-Plaid relationship is in reasonably good shape, even if the former Plaid leader Lord Elis-Thomas seems to be tempting Labour in a separate direction by pledging to support the first minister.

These words may come back to haunt me, but 2017 is unlikely to live up to the drama of 2016.

The signs are it could turn into a technical year as the country processes and works through the details of customs unions, tariffs and business regulations.

Council elections will provide a test for all of the parties and a challenge for Labour in particular to live up to the high-water mark of 2012 when it seized control of a number of town halls.

Also on the horizon is the public inquiry and, depending on the result, the political decision on the M4 relief road, arguably the single most-controversial decision to be faced by the Welsh Government in this assembly term.

Image caption Stephen Crabb had his eyes on Number 10 but resigned over a "sexting" scandal

It was an extraordinary year for a number of Welsh politicians. The different fortunes of two former Welsh secretaries of state are worth a mention.

In 2016 Stephen Crabb went from Welsh secretary to work and pensions secretary, to Conservative leadership challenger to resigning from the cabinet after a newspaper report about him sending suggestive texts to a young woman.

In contrast, David Jones has had a remarkable comeback from the relative wilderness of the Tory backbenches to a Brexit minister, and the man who will probably end up knowing more than any other Welsh politician about what the future of life outside the EU will be like.

If a week is a long time in politics, then an event-filled 2016 was a very long time indeed.

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