Leading eight or nine councils 'a good night' for Labour

Nick Servini
Political editor, Wales

Image caption,
Carwyn Jones visiting a Deeside pharmaceutical firm on Friday

There is a clear sense of expectation management going on at the Welsh Labour conference in Llandudno ahead of the council elections.

The party performed better than many predicted in 2012, as it took advantage of a collapse in the Lib Dem vote in places like Cardiff to take control.

Labour either has an overall majority or is the main party in 12 out of Wales' 22 local authorities.

A senior figure in local government in Wales told me if it remains in the driving seat in eight or nine then that would have been a good night.

It is often said that the real power base for Welsh Labour is in town halls. We shall soon see how strong that power base is in the face of what remains the most divisive time for the party since the 1980's under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.

The feeling is that senior figures in Wales successfully insulated themselves from the infighting at Westminster in the 2016 assembly campaign.

When I was in Llandudno this time last year, it was all about making that election a straight choice between who you wanted as first minister: Carwyn Jones or Andrew RT Davies or Leanne Wood.

That will not be possible this time round with 22 separate battles being fought.

As the establishment party in Wales, if Labour town hall administrations are going to survive after May then they will inevitably have to fight off the calls for new faces and fresh starts.

In response, expect the focus to be on the new generation of Labour council leaders coming through.

There has been a changing of the guard with people like Mel Nott at Bridgend, Ali Thomas at Neath Port Talbot and Bob Wellington in Torfaen retiring, and a younger group coming into the fray.

Replacing them is one thing but taking a message of renewal and making it count with voters is another.

Carwyn Jones is pushing the theme of fairness at Llandudno with his plan to set up a fair work commission to help people access better jobs closer to home without exploitation.

Critics will say this is all motherhood and apple pie, although it will allow the party to focus on the relatively low unemployment in Wales which it believes is its strong card.

The devil will be in the detail.