Mark Drakeford: a steady operator thrust into the spotlight by Covid | Mark Drakeford #Mark #Drakeford #steady #operator #thrust #spotlight #Covid #Mark #Drakeford

There was no great sense of excitement when Mark Drakeford won the race to become the first minister of Wales five years ago.

He was considered a decent man – and unafraid of calling himself a socialist – but a steady pair of hands rather than a charismatic, headline-grabbing leader.

In the end, thanks largely to his careful handling of the Covid crisis, he won friends across the UK and became, against the odds, Wales’s most recognisable first minister.

Unlike so many modern politicians, Drakeford had a life before politics. He worked as a probation officer, youth justice worker and Barnardo’s project leader in the Ely and Caerau areas of Cardiff. He then became an adviser to the then first minister, Rhodri Morgan, notably writing the “clear red water” speech that promoted the differences between Labour in Wales and New Labour in London under Tony Blair.

He was elected as the Senedd member for Cardiff West in 2011 and became first minister when Carwyn Jones left the job eight years later after the death of Carl Sargeant.

In his victory speech, Drakeford said that under his leadership Welsh Labour would follow “radical socialist traditions” in the style of Aneurin Bevan, Michael Foot and Morgan.

He thought Brexit would be his main challenge but it turned out to be Covid. Some thought his approach too cautious – and thus damaging to the Welsh economy – but, generally, his calm attention to detail was appreciated and at the 2021 Senedd elections, he led Welsh Labour to a record-equalling victory.

Again, he promised to be radical and ambitious and he has presided over some eye-catching policies such as a clampdown on second homes, scrapping major road-building programmes and, most recently, introducing a hugely controversial 20mph speed limit in built-up areas.

But the failure to tackle the problem of long NHS waiting times and improve Wales’s education performance has blighted his administration and left Labour open to attack from the Tories. Labour’s problems in Wales are bound to be used to try to batter Keir Starmer during the next UK general election campaign.

Drakeford, 69, repeatedly said that he intended to step down during this Welsh parliament and the timing of the announcement will give his successor time to get their feet under the table before that campaign.

His resignation comes at a time when his popularity appears to be in decline, with an ITV poll suggesting that more than 50% of Welsh people think he is doing a bad job. The time feels right and Drakeford was never going to be the type to hang on to power for the sake of it.

The favourite for his job may be Vaughan Gething, the current economy minister, who came second to Drakeford in the 2018 leadership race. In 2013 Gething became the first black minister in any of the devolved UK administrations and makes no secret of his ambition to become first minister.

Another strong candidate is likely to be the current education and Welsh language minister, Jeremy Miles. He has spoken movingly of how he struggled to find his place in the world as a gay young person, in an era when “someone like me” did not exist as far as the school curriculum was concerned.

Eluned Morgan, who is health secretary, came third in the 2018 race and there will be calls for members to elect a woman as first minister. Other potential candidates include the climate change minister, Julie James, and the deputy minister for social partnership, Hannah Blythyn.

Whoever wins will have a challenging in-tray. Next week the government will publish its budget and needs to find wide-ranging cuts across almost all departments to help prop up the country’s struggling health service and rail system. There are also plans to increase the number of Senedd members to oversee, which are bound to prove controversial.

And then there is that general election campaign. It will a busy year.

#Mark #Drakeford #steady #operator #thrust #spotlight #Covid #Mark #Drakeford

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