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Opinion

Drakeford’s final act: budget warfare and the search for a successor

10 Aug 2023 4 minute read
Mark Drakeford picture by Ben Birchall / PA Wire.

Chris Carter

Mark Drakeford, Wales’ First Minister for five years, has announced he will not continue past the next Welsh Parliament election in 2027.

His time in office has been rocky to say the least.

It was not an easy road. Guiding Wales through the Coronavirus Pandemic and, along with his Health Minister Vaughan Gething, coming under intense pressure as the country went through numerous lockdowns.

Both now face an intensive COVID enquiry together.

In fact the tragedy for many Labour Party members is Drakeford is unable to continue. He is popular among the membership, being seen to be an astute Labour voice for Wales under successive Conservative administrations in Westminster. Arguing terrier-like for more funding from HM Treasury as decade long attempts have been made to trim Whitehall expenditure.

Just this week, Drakeford made the announcement of a devastating £900m shortfall in the Welsh budget further emphasising his ongoing struggle with Westminster. Earlier this year, protesting that if Wales’ budget had kept pace with the growth in the economy since 2010-11, it would be £3.5bn (or 15%) higher by next fiscal year.

Will wielding the axe of public spending cuts now in fact be Drakeford’s last act as leader of the nation? And what will his successor do to remedy the situation?

Succession

Drakeford’s relentless pursuit of a better financial situation for Wales has set the stage for the priorities of his successor. And with his announcement, the political arena is opening to potential candidates stepping forward.

The competition for First Minister is tough. Labour have held power in Cardiff Bay since the Welsh Assembly (now Parliament) was first formed in 1999. Tenured ministers are available aplenty.

Likely candidates at this stage include a triumvirate of experienced candidates, two of which are former contenders for the leadership. Health Minister, now Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, current Health Minister Eluned Morgan, also a former contender for First Minister, with the final, new challenger, Education Minister, Jeremy Miles.

All three have been touring constituency Labour Party meetings – potential voters – for some time.

Intrigue still surrounds Rebecca Evans, the Finance Minister, who has also been seen moving into position for the leadership, though arrives with lower name recognition but equally tenured experience in office.

While individual contenders will seek to garner attention, it’s essential to remember that the race for First Minister in the Senedd is distinctly different from the high-stakes political battles in Westminster.

Indeed, speculating on leadership contenders is much less of a pastime here in Wales.

Yet, beyond the quiet speculation and the political manoeuvrings, the looming shadow of financial challenges awaits the successor of Drakeford.

It is, after all, difficult to be a distinct political, regional force without the funds.

Funding Troubles

The Welsh Government has spent the best part of two decades arguing the despised Barnett funding formula model is out of date, with Welsh per-head spending (£10,656) now tailing that of Scotland (£11,247) and Northern Ireland (£11,590).

Equally the Conservative Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has effectively frozen the Welsh Government block grant, gradually eroding devolved finances thanks to the rising tide of inflation. There is thirdly the matter of High Speed 2, which under funding rules, should result in Wales receiving a proportionate amount of funds to spend on infrastructure.

The question is which candidates for First Minister can ensure this funding shortfall is repaired so they can govern effectively?

But first…

Leading Wales comes with the intricate task of managing party dynamics, especially within the Welsh Labour Party.

Contenders still have to face the party membership, with staunchly left wing rank-and-file members to please. Without the aforementioned funding situation remedied, the new First Minister will run the risk of leaving unhappy activists in their wake. Activists who have the power to create real headaches through the party’s ornate democratic structures.

Though to become First Minister there really is only one open flank available to make a mark in the contest. For purposes of political expediency, obtaining public money will have to come second. For now, red meat policy promises to the party faithful will be the order of the day.

The final conundrum is will the new First Minister be able to create their own distinct place in the United Kingdom or will they be plagued by the same limitations that held former First Minister, Mark Drakeford back from achieving all he hoped when first elected on his path?


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David Smith
8 months ago

Chris, What qualities would make for an excellent Labour Party leader?

Chris Carter
Chris Carter
8 months ago
Reply to  David Smith

Hi David, it would seem to me someone who can go to the next (likely) Labour administration and make the case for reform on one of the three fronts when it comes to funding the Welsh government. The least achievable I suspect is getting equitable funding for the HS2 spending disparity as it would be a huge, roughly £5bn or so, placement of funds. The second, slightly more achievable but unlikely is changes to the Barnett formula, but this formula concerns the 4 nations and while changing the rules could please Wales, it might upset up to three of the… Read more »

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris Carter

I do not think it is going to be possible to make friends with the UK government. They have never shown any interest in improving the lives of the people of Wales and to the contrary using Wales’ resources to solve English problems, such as flooding valleys, building nuclear stations and dumping nuclear waste. They short change Wales while collecting our taxes. If Welsh Labour is to survive it must demand a fair settlement or we, as a nation, must take the our own resources and become an independent nation as defined at the UN. If Welsh Labour is unable… Read more »

David Smith
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris Carter

Radical accountant (if thats not a contradiction) Richard M Murphy clearly identifies how our public services can be properly financed through redistribution. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJb_zktdq8I

Steve. Thomas
8 months ago

Starmer will decide his successor not Drakeford

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve. Thomas

That is why I will not join Labour (nor Conservatives).

The future for England is the Liberal Democrats – They are winning most of the By-elections.

Rob
Rob
8 months ago

The Liberal Democrats will never take England. A general election is a whole different ball game to a by-election.

Christopher Blackmore
Christopher Blackmore
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve. Thomas

That’s a pity, because Mark Drakeford has done a difficult job well, whereas Starmer is a pal of Henry Kissinger.

Huw Davies
Huw Davies
8 months ago

Drakeford grew in my estimation during Covid, but is totally wrong to relusen a Wales Covid inquiry. But Vaughn Gethin and the dame – Eluned Morgan as leaders, please no. The arrogance of both and the uselessness of the latter will mean the death our fledgling democracy. It heartbreaking.

George Thomas
George Thomas
8 months ago
Reply to  Huw Davies

Can you explain to me, underneath a column about how Drakeford’s been forced to make cuts due to restrictions in Welsh finances, why spending on a Welsh specific covid enquiry would be a good idea?

What do we gain?

Andy Williams
8 months ago
Reply to  Huw Davies

Eluned Morgan FM? Lee Walters FM? I’m struggling for words here. God help us, will do?

Flo Peacock
Flo Peacock
8 months ago

Great article. Drakeford gets his name from where small dragons used to cross rivers.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
8 months ago

‘Welsh’ Labour are subservient to the right wing Starmer clan. The latter will have the casting vote on the next leader.
Very mediocre contenders for first minister with very poor track records as far as I can tell.

George Thomas
George Thomas
8 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

What evidence do you have for the first sentence?

Alex Lucas
Alex Lucas
8 months ago
Reply to  George Thomas

The fact that the Welsh Executive Committee have handed over parliamentary selection management to UK Labour which has resulted in any hopeful who is vaguely left-wing being purged from long and shortlists?

Alex Lucas
Alex Lucas
8 months ago

Gething, Morgan or Miles?! So a choice of three right-wingers who will turn Welsh Labour into nothing more than an office branch of Starmer’s authoritarian neoliberal cabal.

For all our sakes, perhaps one of the few remaining socialists in the Welsh Labour Senedd group will put themselves forward to lead a supposedly ‘socialist’ party!

Philip Davies
Philip Davies
8 months ago

I wish Mr Drakeford a pleasant retirement. I don’t envy anyone the rough and tumble of politics and I know the man meant well and did, according to his lights, the best he could for Wales. Nonetheless, not for one moment need I consider apologising for certain scathing comments I’ve made in NT about his Administration, the outcomes of whose economic and health service management have been frankly lamentable and whose Lockdown eccentricities as well as Green activist excesses genuinely trouble me – and many others. But I don’t expect my feeble strictures will have troubled him one jot (unfortunately… Read more »

James Wilson
James Wilson
8 months ago

If those described in your article are the only plausible options for the leadership of the Labour party in Wales and thus the Welsh Government, its a hell of a depressing situation that we face. All are tarnished, with the possible exception of Jeremy Miles, with the brush of systemic apathy, sniping hypocrisy and structural obfuscation that infuses the vibe of the establishments body politic. Now more than ever Wales needs a Government and a head of Government that stands up strongly for Wales and vocalizes this in an overt and passionate way. There’s little point in trying to construct… Read more »

Andy Williams
8 months ago

He should not have refused covid families who lost loved ones, a Welsh only enquiry. Unforgiveable. Sending back 150 million pounds to London, and complaining the Tories have mismanaged the economy, not on in my books. And don’t get me started about 20mph.

Annibendod
Annibendod
8 months ago

The next FM will be dealing with an incoming Labour UK Govt. Consider what we know already. Starmer and co are actively preventing left wing candidates from standing for elected office. They have fought to keep PR off the legislative agenda. They have declared that they will retain the primacy of Westminster in their proposed, limited constitutional reform. I presume a better finance settlement might be forthcoming but this will prove woefully inadequate for Wales’ needs. Gething would be the ideal Starmer candidate. I hear from Welsh Lab indy supporters that he is seen as the least favourable for annibyniaeth.… Read more »

The Nietzsche of Skewen
The Nietzsche of Skewen
8 months ago
Reply to  Annibendod

Nice, clever, eloquent, Intellectual.

Meanwhile the real issues facing Y Cymru, are neglected.

Perhaps MD should have spent some time around Wales, speaking to business folk, Farmers in Rural Areas, Visiting the Valleys, West, Mid and North Wales – he, and all the members have, and are, conspicuous by their absence, they live in this detached world.

Do they Really acre about the betterment of our Nation ?

The Nietzsche of Skewen
The Nietzsche of Skewen
8 months ago

Welsh Assembly —— > Y Seneddd ——– > ‘Time for a renaming / Re-brand ?

An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public.
—  Talleyrand, 1754-1838, French statesman & diplomat

Welshman28
Welshman28
8 months ago

Drakeford is delusional forcing his beliefs on the public . He’s ignored the Welsh people from day one being in office. Look at Wales today :- NHS in ruins . Transport in ruins. Business in ruins. No road building . Councils in Wales running areas to the ground. 20MPH road traffic costing millions and now we are being told that the Welsh people will have to suffer because of in pending cuts in the NHS and Education. And what do we get from Drakeford he blames the Conservative Government and Barnet formula . Not a single mention of the money… Read more »

David Thomas
David Thomas
8 months ago
Reply to  Welshman28

Well stated, Drakefords 3 responses are shame on you, you do not understand what I am saying, its all Westminsters fault. Too much money wasted on pet projects, not enough spent on our inferstructure. Wants more AM’S but cuts spending on roads schools internal Investments, cut the NHS budget when he was health minister, and now as the FM.
Vote labour for more cuts. Wake up labour voters the mines and steel have gone done nothing to replace them.

Huw kidwell
Huw kidwell
7 months ago

Drakeford is a disgrace. Giving money to develope a cable car to the top of killvey hill in Swansea 4.5 million. But of course nothing for EV infrastructure. And his policy on second home council tax is just extra money for the labour taffia to waste. Bloody labour are a waste of time in Wales nationally and at council level. Out of touch and out of time.

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