VOTING HAS NOW FINALLY begun in the Welsh Labour leadership election, after a ‘phoney war’ that commenced in April, when the current leader and First Minister, Carwyn Jones, announced his intention to stand down by the end of the year.
The first candidate to declare himself was Mark Drakeford, who is backed by the left and is the bookies’ favourite to win. He faces two opponents, however, who should not be underestimated: Vaughan Gething and Eluned Morgan - both, like himself, ministers in the Welsh government.
Mark Drakeford’s socialist credentials are impressive and explain why Welsh Labour Grassroots members overwhelmingly agreed to support him even before there were any other confirmed candidates in the field. Having worked as a probation officer, youth worker and social policy lecturer and served as a county councillor, he was brought into the Welsh government as a special adviser by Rhodri Morgan when the latter became First Minister in 2000, rising to head the policy team.
In this capacity, Drakeford was the driving force behind the policy programme that put “clear red water” between Wales and the policies of the then Blair government. Following his lead, Welsh ministers abandoned PFIs in favour of conventional funding of public services. They avoided foundation hospitals and the use of private facilities and eventually abolished the NHS internal market altogether.
In education, they resisted the introduction of academies and defended the comprehensive model from the revival of selection that developed in England. They scrapped NHS prescription charges, made a range of other public services free at the point of delivery and put equality of outcome at the heart of the government’s policy objectives.
After Drakeford became an Assembly Member in 2011, he spent relatively little time on the backbenches before being brought into the cabinet, initially as health secretary, in which capacity he legislated for presumed consent for organ donation, and then as finance secretary.
As well as having the unenviable task of managing the Welsh budget in the face of growing austerity, he has also represented Wales in the Brexit talks convened by the UK government.
Mark has also been a strong voice for party democracy. After Labour’s Welsh executive committee decided last year that leadership elections in Wales would continue to be conducted by means of an electoral college, he was at the heart of the campaign to secure the introduction of OMOV (one member, one vote), which finally achieved victory at a special conference in September. He was also the only Welsh cabinet member to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign in 2015 and remained loyal during the ‘chicken coup’.
By contrast, neither of the other leadership candidates supported Corbyn - although both profess loyalty to the UK party leadership now. Vaughan Gething, who succeeded Drakeford as health secretary, was more comfortable with UK Labour policy during the party’s Blairite phase and has had a long association with Progress, while Eluned Morgan, the minister for the Welsh language and lifelong learning, was one of those who attacked the “clear red water” policies from the right, a decade ago, for being insufficiently “aspirational”.
Gething and Morgan both emphasise “change” in their campaign slogans and have tried to suggest that Drakeford is the status quo candidate, while they would bring a fresh approach and greater diversity to the top of the Welsh party and government.
Gething is the only black Labour Assembly Member, while Morgan played on the need to have a woman candidate in the race to secure the six nominations from fellow AMs that she needed to get on the ballot paper. She has subsequently implied that Drakeford deliberately sought to block her candidacy, by ‘hoovering up’ the nominations of more than half the Assembly Labour Group. A more convincing analysis is that the most prominent female AMs - and those with the strongest feminist credentials - saw Mark Drakeford as the most reliable defender of women’s rights in Wales.
Drakeford also secured the backing of 24 of the 28 Welsh CLPs that made supporting nominations and seven of the nine affiliated unions - but he cannot afford to be complacent. His competitors have powerful allies and Gething, in particular, has run a slick campaign. But either of them would pull Welsh Labour back to the thinking of the 1990s and 2000s, while Mark Drakeford would preside over a Welsh Labour Party fully in tune with the ideas of Jeremy Corbyn and commit his government to creating a more equal Wales. It is essential that he wins.
is a member of the Labour Party NEC and Welsh Executive Committee.