The post-election work is largely complete. The presiding officer and deputy presiding officer for the National Assembly were elected earlier in the week, and now we have a new government as well. Shortly after the election, Carwyn Jones declared his intention that Labour govern alone, without a coalition partner or other arrangement, but conscious of ‘the political arithmetic of the Assembly’, and ‘without triumphalism or political tribalism’. Now he has been formally elected as First Minister by the Assembly, appointed by HM the Queen, and sworn in, chosen his government. The official press release is here.
There are two novelties about the new Welsh Government. The first is the name: from now on, according to the BBC, it is to be simply ‘the Welsh Government’, not the Welsh Assembly Government. Presumably the statutory title will have to be used for legal and formal purposes, but the government has exercised its prerogative to rename itself for practical purposes. There are precedents for this, of course: the renaming of the Scottish Executive as the Scottish Government, in 2007, and the creation of the ‘Welsh Assembly Government’ as a term to describe the executive part of what was still one legal institution in 2002. The use of the term ‘Welsh Assembly Government’ was a confusing anachronism after the legal separation of the executive and legislative institutions in 2007, as well as leading to the regrettable acronym of ‘WAG’.
The second novelty is that the Counsel General is to be an external appointment, and to be announced later. It won’t be an AM – a wise move, given the limited number of AMs. There are now five qualified lawyers among their ranks by my reckoning (John Griffiths, Mick Antoniw, Vaughan Gething and Julie James of Labour, and Ieuan Wyn Jones of Plaid; all solicitors). That talent is better used for parliamentary work rather than as the government’s legal adviser, given that there is no requirement to do so. And that also rightly means that there won’t be any question of the legal adviser also having direct portfolio responsibilities, which is against the aim of the Government of Wales Act 2006.
As regards ministerial appointments, there aren’t many surprises. Leighton Andrews remains education minister, and Jane Hutt keeps the finance and Assembly business brief (now renamed as ‘Minister for Finance and Leader of the House’). Carl Sergeant retains local government, Edwina Hart gets the enterprise portfolio, and Lesley Griffiths is the new health minister. Huw Lewis becomes housing minister with a full seat in cabinet, and a brief that includes heritage and regeneration. There’s no agriculture or rural affairs portfolio, with responsibilities seemingly split between John Griffiths as Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development, and Alun Davies as deputy minister for agriculture, food, fisheries and European programmes. It’s also not clear from the portfolio titles who will have responsibility for transport. While BBC News talks of ‘three new faces’, they’re only new as full ministers: two were deputy ministers before the election, and the other was Counsel General. Davies and Jeff Cuthbert, deputy minister for skills, are the only two first-time appointees to ministerial office. (Cuthbert’s professional background in skills training makes his a very logical appointment.) Interestingly, ‘intergovernmental relations’ are expressly reserved as part of the First Minister’s functions, along with the Delivery Unit, Energy, Wales for Africa, Wales in the World, European Union, and Civil Service Reform. Given the emphasis on delivery, the ongoing need to develop the civil service capacity, and the importance of external relations for the Government, he will have his hands full.
Perhaps the most interesting point in terms of personalities is who hasn’t been appointed. To my eyes, there are two conspicuous absentees – though both are newly-elected AMs, even if very experienced in Welsh politics. One is Julie Morgan, the new AM for Cardiff North – and a long-time Westminster MP. The other is Mark Drakeford, a distinguished scholar of social policy and long-term special adviser to Rhodri Morgan as First Minister. Perhaps neither wishes to be a minister, but both have hugely valuable abilities that mustn’t be wasted.
The new cabinet has seven ministers (other than the First Minister), and three deputy ministers. The outgoing One Wales coalition had eight ministers and four deputy ministers. That suggests that there’s only a little room to accommodate another party in government without a major restructuring, if a coalition should be formed at a later date.