Taxi for Carwyn

THE resignation of Carwyn Jones on April 21st took almost everyone by surprise. Wales’s first minister had been in the job for nearly a decade and only last month had told reporters that he had no plans to quit. Even some of his fellow Labour cabinet ministers had not got wind of his plans.

His departure seems to be a belated consequence of the suicide last November of Carl Sargeant, a former Welsh cabinet minister. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein affair and the subsequent run of allegations of inappropriate behaviour by politicians, unspecified complaints were made against Sargeant. Mr Jones promptly sacked him. Four days later, Sargeant took his own life. His death shook Welsh politics and led some to call for Mr Jones’s resignation. One of the three probes set up in light of the death is looking at how he handled the dismissal.

An unfavourable verdict would stain a reasonable record. Mr Jones steered a poor country through a time of biting austerity, which started just after he took office. He won more powers for the devolved Welsh government—though they have not been used to great effect, at least in health and education. He proved to be a successful campaigner. Ahead of last year’s general election, the Welsh Conservatives were expected to make gains. Instead, a campaign led by Mr Jones saw Labour increase its tally of seats by three.

His job was made easier by Labour’s dominance in Wales. It is in effect a one-party state, says Roger Awan-Scully of Cardiff University. Labour has run the devolved government—most recently with the support of the Liberal Democrats—since it was established in 1999 and won the most seats at every general election since 1922. In parts of Wales the only political competition in the past century has been between Labour candidates. Rival parties complain that Labour poaches their brightest politicians.

There are downsides to this dominance. A lack of external pressure makes Welsh Labour prone to infighting. More seriously, a long period in power unchallenged can cause a “living decay”, with little incentive for the incumbent to come up with new ideas, says Richard Wyn Jones, also of Cardiff University.

Labour’s next leader is likely to be chosen using a system that weighs the votes of parliamentarians and trade unions more heavily than those of party members (the national Labour Party ditched this system in 2014, paving the way for the election of Jeremy Corbyn, a grassroots favourite). The process is under review, following a close election to the party’s deputy leadership. Carolyn Harris beat Julie Morgan despite winning fewer votes among members. Ms Morgan does not dispute the result, but says that if the same thing were to happen in the forthcoming leadership election it would be “unacceptable”.

The contest will take place in the autumn. So far only Mark Drakeford, the finance minister, has thrown his hat into the ring. He is to the left of Mr Jones, and the most Corbynite of the potential candidates. Whoever wins will oversee the aftermath of Brexit, which Wales backed despite being a big recipient of EU funds. Perhaps even trickier will be renewing Welsh Labour while it remains in power, with little pressure to change.