What to expect in 2018

Senedd and Pierhead building in Cardiff Bay

I am afraid to say that the start of 2018 in Welsh politics will have a depressingly familiar ring to it.

Events will surely be dominated by the continued fallout from the death of Carl Sargeant.

Selection of all candidates for the by-election in Alyn and Deeside will be confirmed within days, and campaigning will quickly follow.

As if it needed it, the decision by his son Jack to try to succeed his father gives added poignancy to events.

It is difficult to see anyone getting in his way to win the Labour nomination, indeed as one senior figure in Welsh Labour said to me, it will have the feeling of a coronation rather than a contest.

Day job

Carwyn Jones then has to navigate his way through the three inquiries: the QC-led investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr Sargeant's death, the leak inquiry by the Welsh Government's most senior civil servant and the inquiry into whether the first minister broke the ministerial code in relation to historical bullying allegations.

As he has indicated in a number of interviews, he is going to try to tough it out.

There are many questions but perhaps the one we will keep on returning to will be around why Carl Sargeant was sacked as a minister before any inquiry had been completed into the allegations against him?

And then there is the question of how the first minister will be able to juggle these questions alongside the day job?

On that front, a number of big one-off spending decisions are in the offing.

Image caption Carwyn Jones says a string of allegations have not distracted him from his work

That includes the M4 relief road at Newport, which has now reached £1.3bn after the recent rise in the bill to cover relocation costs and improvement work at Newport docks.

The recommendation from the inspector will be critical in the spring.

If he gives approval then the Labour administration will want to plough on as soon as possible but with the potential for rebels within its ranks it will need help from elsewhere.

That is likely to come from the Conservatives.

Sources tell me we can expect a decision early in the new year on the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon.

The mood music from the UK government has not been positive both privately and publicly.

Pressure

The Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns told council leaders earlier in the month he was feeling the pressure politically.

He knows a rejection would be portrayed as another blow for Swansea after the decision not to extend the electrification of the mainline west of Cardiff.

And it would provide easy fodder for Labour looking to portray the party as being anti-Welsh.

If it goes against the developers, then the arguments will have to be made convincingly that the level of public subsidy is simply too big but that will be difficult when the lagoon campaign has developed significant momentum.

And in the middle of everything will be probably the central problem facing the Welsh Government: how to cope with the rising cost of health and social care.

Image caption Some Labour AMs could resist the M4 relief road spending plans

The latest budget settlement has given some respite after dire predictions, particularly from council leaders.

The big problem for the Health Secretary Vaughan Gething is Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, where the financial position has deteriorated since it was put into special measures, the highest level of oversight possible from ministers in Cardiff, two-and-a-half years ago.

An important point will come in the spring when we learn whether health managers have got a handle on the deficits in three other health boards: Cardiff and Vale, ABMU and Hywel Dda.

Health Secretary Vaughan Gething may come to a point where he loses patience with the health boards if the scale of overspending fails to improve.

Brexit

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention the small matter of Brexit.

I was in Maesteg recently gauging opinion, and was struck by how engaged people still are on the subject.

Remainers in the town felt there had been a change since most people there voted to leave in the referendum.

There may be some but I also detected a hardening of opinion as well anecdotally, not just in a leave-voting valleys town like Maesteg but elsewhere across Wales as well.

I am not a betting a man but I would be prepared to stick some money on 2018 doing nothing to harmonise relations in Wales on the great political divide of our generation: Brexit.

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