Opinion

Why is Mark Drakeford treated as less important than Keir Starmer?  

08 May 2021 5 minutes Read
Keir Starmer picture by Rwendland (CC BY-SA 4.0). First Minister Mark Drakeford. Picture by the Welsh Government.

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.

‘Shift’ 

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.

‘Real implications’ 

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.

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Rick N
Rick N
6 months ago

I agree sales is always seen as a junior partner in the uk and mr drakeford as inconsequential. He deserves More recognition of his status on a nationwide level.

Iain GrahAm
Iain GrahAm
6 months ago

I agree, Watching from New South Wales in Australia I’m amazed how little Wales receives commentary from all types of London based media. Wales in comparison to Scotland is invisible! I think Australian media gives more coverage to this issue. In comparing the First Ministers to our State Premiers no media outlet would dare to ignore them and the constitutional power they hold. The UK needs radical constitutional reform including acknowledging the role of the First Minister. I’m not sure Wale’s First Minister has access to the Monarch in the way the Scottish one does either, so to inform her… Read more »

Kevin Morgan
Kevin Morgan
6 months ago
Reply to  Iain GrahAm

A big thank you to you and your fellow Australians for remembering your cousins in Wales, and also to former USA President Mr Donald Trump for his recognition of Wales as a Country. I think recognising us as a Province is more in line with provinces in China, which to me is worse than being annexed as we are prisoners to our captives who treat us as second class citizens, took our resources and left us forsaken, left to rott in the poverty of the aftermath, regardless of how well we adapt and carry ourselves… ❤️❤️❤️

hdavies15
hdavies15
6 months ago

Labour is an Unionist Party, end of. So the big boss in London, no matter how big a duffer he may be, gets to be senior to a leader in Wales who has just secured a victory. Were I a Labour Party member I would be advocating that Wales Labour secedes from UK Labour, but there again I would say that wouldn’t I !. Nevertheless if Wales Labour ever managed to muster the stomach for such a move it would also serve as a step towards a bigger breakaway, and maybe it’s from that direction that the eventual leadership of… Read more »

Kevin Morgan
Kevin Morgan
6 months ago

It basically comes down to Wales being denied it’s rightful status as a Country, and recognition as a Province instead to take our natural resources of slate, gold, coal, gas and iron/steel etc, which has always been the backbone of Britain. Now our resources have all but been depleted, leaving us with little more than scraps, Scotlands natural resources of oil and gas have been become the a highly sought after commodity that fortunately for Scotland has been timely where their indepence push has ensured they get their share of the profits, which is more than can be said for… Read more »

Meurig W Williams
Meurig W Williams
6 months ago

“The surface of the earth is comparatively high altitude if you have hitherto been forced to live your life deep underground.” As an American who left Wales half a century ago, I strongly appreciate that remark which sums up so much in a simple sentence. Thank you Gareth.

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
6 months ago

We all know this but when will Welsh Labour finally realise it? The party and Cymru itself will never get respect from Westminster – the establishment there is too set in its ways and that will never change. If anything it will get worse with the Tories gunning for devolution. It’s time Welsh Labour woke up to the fact that the Union does not benefit Cymru anymore, if it ever did. Self determination is the only way forward if we are to prosper.

Mrs Audrey Jones
Mrs Audrey Jones
6 months ago

BBC coverage of the senedd election was abysmal.Not one mention on Sunday, allready forgotten. Scotland still headlines. Why? The threat of independance is real there.

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