A row has broken out over a TV party leaders’ debate after it was revealed First Minister Mark Drakeford will not be taking part.
A senior Labour source confirmed Eluned Morgan, Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing and Welsh Language, will stand in for him to answer the public’s questions in a special programme on the Covid-19 crisis to be broadcast on BBC Wales on Wednesday, December 16.
Nation.Cymru understands that the BBC approached Welsh Labour last week about the Wales Live media slot amid claims that Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives have known about it since last month.
According to the source, the Labour Party has acted in “good faith” and has worked hard to secure a senior Welsh Labour voice for the show “despite the BBC’s mistake”.
It was emphasised that the First Minister debates Paul Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, and the Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru, each week at First Minister’s Questions, as well as takes questions in the media at press conferences, and from members of the public on social media.
Plaid Cymru have confirmed that their leader Adam Price will take part, and the Conservatives said that Paul Davies had been “asked” to take part but that the line up could change.
A senior Welsh Labour source said: “Mark is focused on leading Wales through the next few difficult weeks of the pandemic, as he should be.
“There’ll be plenty of time for party political TV debates in the New Year, ahead of the elections. Until then, people can watch Mark debate opposition leaders every Tuesday at First Minister’s Questions.”
The source added: “Eluned Morgan is a senior Welsh Government minister and will do an excellent job.”
A Plaid source said that “this seems more like a standing in rather than standing up for Wales approach from Labour”.
“Seeing Labour calling someone up from the bench to such an important debate is surprising given their criticism of absenteeism in the tv debates last year. They’re more than happy to scrutinise others but evidently don’t like being scrutinised themselves.
“Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price is looking forward to this opportunity to present a positive case for a change of Government and a new First Minister in May.”
Mr Price, who had called for a debate in the autumn, said he was “proud” to represent his party for the first time in the context of a Welsh General Election.
He said: “At a time when Wales is facing a Covid and Brexit perfect storm, it is crucial that party leaders are given the opportunity to scrutinise each other’s approaches.
“How we overcome such difficulties and create a New Wales with equality at its heart will be a central theme of the 2021 election.
“As a prospective First Minister I’m proud to be representing Plaid Cymru in the Leaders’ Debate and look forward to delivering a hopeful and positive message to the audience.”
A spokesperson for BBC Cymru Wales said: “BBC Wales invited the First Minister and the leaders of Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives in the Senedd to take part in a televised prime time debate to answer viewers’ questions on the Covid-19 pandemic. The programme will be broadcast as planned on December 16th at 1930.”