The Race to Lead Labour in Wales

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

Exactly as I did for the Plaid Cymru leadership election, in the coming weeks, I’ll look at the Labour leadership candidate manifestos/platforms in more detail and will cover at least one (if there are any) televised debates – starting with a write-up of the Sharp End discussion which will hopefully be done for tomorrow.

To start, here’s a brief rundown of the candidates and – as I see it – their main strengths and weaknesses.

Prof. Mark Drakeford AM (Lab, Cardiff West)

Finance Secretary (2016-); Health Secretary (2013-2016); de facto Brexit Minister (2016-)
First elected in 2011
Professional Experience: Probation officer, lecturer in Social Sciences (Swansea University & Cardiff University), former special adviser to Rhodri Morgan

Pros:

  • Clearly very intelligent and articulate; would fit the “safe pair of hands”, “don’t frighten the horses” mould of First Ministers past and present.
  • The amount of support he’s already secured is formidable. Although I doubt he’ll be complacent, it’s got to be demoralising for the other two campaigns. He would have to have a complete disaster to lose this based on how things are going so far.
  • Probably has the best idea of the three candidates as to what the role of First Minister actually entails; he’s been close to power for two decades and has held two of the most important Cabinet positions – health & finance.

Cons:

  • He’s authentic, but lacks charisma; he doesn’t have the populist charm Rhodri Morgan did or the cultivated familiarity and question-dodging skills of Carwyn Jones. There’s a danger that if he goes up against a natural debater like Adam Price or more direct types like Paul Davies he’ll leave second best.
  • Of the three candidates, he seems to be playing this more as being the leader of a branch in a wider UK Labour party than a head of government in his own right. He’s very much Corbyn’s man in Wales.
  • The elephant in the room: he doesn’t have a safe seat or political longevity on his side. Alright, that might change if he wins and becomes First Minister but it’s also going to provide the likes of Neil McEvoy and Cardiff Tories with more ammunition – he’ll be blamed for absolutely everything for the next 2 years or so and will become the most wanted scalp in Welsh politics.

Vaughan Gething AM (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth)

Health Secretary (2016-); Deputy Minister for Health (2014-2016)
First elected in 2011
Professional Experience: Solicitor/Partner (Thompsons); former President of Wales TUC, former President of NUS Cymru

Pros:

  • One of the sharpest public speakers and debaters on the Labour benches; he’s relatively young for a senior politician, telegenic, verges on charismatic, knows what to say and how. He’s making noises about being his own man and not following whatever the UK party decides.
  • Stronger trade union credentials/history than the other candidates and has quite a compelling backstory. Under the electoral college that might’ve been an advantage, but it still can be if he can turn it into votes.
  • A very safe first-past-the-post seat that he can effectively hold on to for as long as he wants (or until the electoral system changes, and even then….).

Cons:

  • Someone needs to break it to him: his campaign is calling for change (#ChangeTakesCourage) and for Labour to turn away from being “managerial” when his record to date suggests he’s one of the most managerial, technocratic Labour AMs. He’s had the power to make a difference but hasn’t.
  • He was a student politician; that marks you out as someone who was planning a political career from an early age (in other words a “career politician”). People who want to be politicians tend to make the worst ones.
  • Health has been the poisoned chalice for many an ambitious politician and while Vaughan’s performance to date has been relatively solid compared to his predecessors (including Mark Drakeford), things have started to take a turn for the worse over the last year. Health Secretaries are always one failure or scandal away from a ruined reputation.

Eluned Morgan AM, Baroness Ely (Lab, Mid & West Wales)

Minister for Lifelong Learning & Welsh Language (2017-)
First elected in 2016
Professional Experience: Broadcasting Researcher, MEP (1999-2009), Life Peer, Business Director (SWALEC)

Pros:

  • Extensive public, political and private sector experience – probably the most impressive and varied CV of the three candidates and one of the most impressive in the Senedd full stop.
  • Eluned hasn’t been part of the “Bay Bubble” and is something of a political outsider in terms of post-devolution politics: government would look and feel far more different with her at the helm than it would with the other two. If Labour really wants to make a clean break with the past then she would probably be the best option.
  • Eluned has the potential to reach parts of Wales that traditionally don’t give Labour a second thought – namely the rural west and north-west. Vaughan and Mark are heavily associated with Cardiff and another M4 corridor First Minister would be more of the same.

Cons:

  • A part privately-educated vicar’s daughter who also holds a peerage is a more than a bit crachach; she might be an outsider in terms of the “Bay Bubble”, but is about as Establishment as it gets in Wales.
  • The struggle Eluned had to even get on the ballot. This is an entire topic in its own right, but while it doesn’t look good for Labour, it doesn’t look good for Eluned personally either; it’s right to wonder whether there was something other than not being Mark Drakeford which put other AMs off from nominating her.
  • Despite going into the Senedd with a lot of hype, she hasn’t stood out as a particularly good Minister yet and has come across as tribal in the past. Two words: Aneurin Glyndwr – it was pre-Twitterati, but if people think that Adam Price video was bad….
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