Why is Mark Drakeford treated as less important than Keir Starmer?
Gareth Ceidiog Hughes
When Keir Starmer visits Mark Drakeford in Wales, I am always struck by how the leader of a government is treated like the little cheese, not the big one.
Starmer is almost characterised by much of the British media as a kind of monarch visiting one of his lords.
But if anyone deserves to be regarded as a big cheese of this relationship, especially now, then surely it is Mark Drakeford.
For one thing, Drakeford has proved himself capable of winning elections, while the Labour leader in Westminster manifestly has not.
The contrast between the recent Labour performance in Wales compared to England is a stark one.
The party’s drubbing in England does not augur well for Starmer’s prospects of becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
As leader of the opposition in the House of Commons, where real power is vested in whomever commands a majority, his constitutional power doesn’t extend much further than being allowed to ask a few questions.
He doesn’t have power and he does not look like he’ll be attaining it any time soon.
Drakeford on the other hand is the leader of a nation. He wields tangible constitutional power that has been keenly felt by pretty much everyone in Wales during the pandemic. He has the power to shut the border. He has the power to mandate that you stay in your home.
Because of this, the important role of the Senedd in the life of the nation has begun to filter through to the public consciousness.
This shift has been profound, and now even British media has begun to pay attention to Wales.
Drakeford’s profile rocketed to previously unimagined levels for a Welsh First Minister as a result. – something which will have done him no harm at the election.
But the level of this profile needs to be viewed in context. The surface of the earth is comparatively high altitude if you have hitherto been forced to live your life deep underground.
In addition to that, although the coverage of Wales in the British media has improved markedly, it still leaves much to be desired.
There are holes of cavernous proportions. Labour’s stonking and consequential victory at the Senedd election didn’t get a sniff on the front pages of the London-based papers.
What Starmer does is still treated as if it is more important than what is done by Mark Drakeford.
The byelection in Hartlepool, though certainly not insignificant because what it tells us about wider voting trends in England, had no impact on who holds power at Westminster. The Conservatives already had an 80-seat majority, and one more makes little difference to the unequal balance of power.
That election for one seat received far more attention than the concurrent and far more consequential parliamentary tussle here in Wales.
The Senedd election has real implications, not only for how the people of Wales are governed when it comes to health, education, and so on, but for the relationship between the governments of the UK’s constituent parts.
A Labour coalition with Plaid Cymru, which now looks off the cards, could have resulted in a more divergence from the UK Government. It could have resulted in a more adversarial approach towards Westminster.
Yet a figure who wields real power in Wales is treated as less important than a figure who wields little or none in Westminster.
But this is not only the case with MPs. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London is accorded more respect than Drakeford. Now you could argue that he is a substantive figure and a proven election winner. London is of course a global financial centre and so on, with a population that dwarfs Wales.
But when it comes to the power he has, compared to the First Minister of Wales, the Mayor of London is more akin to county councillor, albeit with a much higher profile. Though Khan does have the power to get more done than Stamer at the moment. At least he has some executive authority.
As First Minister, Mark Drakeford is the conductor of Welsh politics. He leads the orchestra.
Yet in a UK-wide context, to say he is playing second fiddle would be to rather overstate the respect he is accorded by the British media and the Westminster establishment. It’s more like he’s at the back playing the tambourine.
This is not only an affront to him, and to Welsh Labour, but to the people of Wales as a whole.
As the leader of a nation, Mark Drakeford is the most important Labour politician in the UK, and it is about time he was treated as such.