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Mark Drakeford Wins Welsh Labour Leadership

Cathy Owens
Cathy Owens

Mark Drakeford has, as widely predicted, won the Welsh Labour Leadership Election today, and he will be nominated next week to become the next First Minister.

The outcome was widely predicted as the change in the Labour party membership and support has been clear to see in recent years, and anyone who so strongly associated with Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters was always going to be the most likely winner.

Things have changed considerably since I helped run Carwyn Jones’ campaign some nine years ago. At the time, the Labour Party had 10,000 members in Wales, and we knew that if we ran great campaign – modern, fresh and forward looking – then we had a great chance of winning the election within the Labour party in 2009. That simply would not be good enough in 2018. Labour now has 25,000 members in Wales, and 15,000 of them joined in the last 3 years. The Corbyn Candidate was always going to win it, and Mark owned that.

We should not always see Welsh Labour politics through the prism of Corbyn, though, as that does a great disservice to Rhodri, Carwyn and their Cabinets over the last 20 years. Welsh Labour has been running a left-wing public service policy in Wales over that time, in stark contrast to Labour and Conservative governments in the UK since 1997. What Rhodri, and then Carwyn were able to do is stretch that leftish appeal over to the centre ground, by also being unashamedly pro-business and focused on the economy.

It’s why Labour have retained power in Wales. People like politicians who care about health, social care, schools, equality and fairness, whilst also feeling strongly about good jobs and a good standard of living. Labour in Wales has dominated that agenda, not leaving enough room for Plaid Cymru either on the left or right, and managing the politics well enough that they can work with other parties to deliver a strong government.

Mark Drakeford, of course, has played a significant role in developing this agenda over the last 20 years. He was Rhodri’s right-hand man on policy for 10 years, and has been a Cabinet member for nearly 6 years. He helped shape the clear red water – the Welsh policy agenda that was distinct in particular from UK Labour, providing a bulwark against competition in public services. That distinction on public services between Labour in Wales and Labour at a UK-level is now not so clear – and Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto is very similar to what Welsh Labour have been delivering.

Where the distinction lies is now on the pro-business, jobs and growth focus. Jeremy Corbyn is not seen as a friend of industry, with a pragmatic, supportive economic development policy, in the same way that Rhodri and Carwyn could demonstrate.

My first question for Mark Drakeford is how he is going to replicate that, and maintain that broad appeal, especially when during the campaign he’s made it pretty clear that he won’t be calling for a second referendum, he won’t be building the M4, he won’t support any new nuclear, and he won’t be giving out big grants to big business.

We’ll soon see some signals of how he will govern when he appoints his Cabinet next week. Having run a campaign as a Corbynista, with support from Momentum and all that entails, will he govern as a Corbynista, or will he maintain his current course? He’s been a pretty pragmatic minister so far, and I don’t think we will see a huge shift in policy or personnel.

Of course, those who he is closest to will be rewarded. We are likely to see Julie Morgan get a ministerial role, but will he bring Jane Hutt, who served as a Minister for 18 years, back to the front bench, or does he have another role in mind for her? There is, of course, only a small cast of characters and it is likely that Ken Skates, Jeremy Miles and Vaughan Gething will be in senior posts. My tip is for Julie James to have a senior job and to play an important role in government.

Vaughan Gething should be hugely proud of coming second with 41%. This is a great result and his team ran a slick campaign, with a strong voice of pragmatism and leadership on key issues of concern to the public, not just to the Labour Party. Eluned Morgan also did twice as well as most people predicted, as she clearly hit a nerve on the economy and reaching outside the Labour movement.

It also will give Mark Drakeford food for thought. Even with the huge expectation of the new and old left-wing members in these Corbyn times and the overwhelming support from elected representatives and unions, he was not the first choice for more than 50% of the movement.

Perhaps it shows that the far-left (or more accurately, the slightly further left) in Wales is not as dominant within the party as one might think. Also, it reminds the First Minister Elect that if he is going to appeal to people outside the Labour movement, i.e. continue to win elections, then he is going to have to govern for all of Wales, and not just for left-wing activists.

There is no doubt Mark Drakeford’s commitment to social justice and public services ‘for the many not the few’, means that we are likely to see some shift in emphasis, but he knows the value of winning elections, and I think he will build on what Rhodri and Carwyn began. 

For a bird's eye view.
Am olwg oddi uchod.

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