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Welsh Labour leadership: How will Mark Drakeford be replaced as Wales' first minister?

How will the Welsh Labour leadership election work?

Inside of the Welsh Assembly (Senedd) building
Candidates for Welsh Labour leader must be Members of the Senedd (MSs).

On 13 December 2023, first minister Mark Drakeford announced his resignation as leader of Welsh Labour, triggering a leadership election to fill the vacancy. He will formally step down as first minister once a new leader of Welsh Labour is elected.

Who is eligible to stand for Welsh Labour leader?

Candidates for Welsh Labour leader must be Members of the Senedd (MSs). There are three ways that a candidate can get onto the ballot: receive nominations from 20% of Labour MSs, receive nominations from 10% of MSs and 20% of Constituency Labour Parties, or receive nominations from 10% of MSs and three nominations from Welsh Labour affiliated organisations, including two from affiliated trade unions.

There are currently 30 Labour MSs, so 20% of the Senedd Group is six MS nominations. On 21 December 2023, it was confirmed that Jeremy Miles had secured 17 and Vaughan Gething 11 MS nominations (including their self-nominations) meaning they will be the only names on the ballot. 46 Only 28 nominations were listed as neither Mark Drakeford nor Chief Whip Jane Hutt opted to back a candidate.

Who elects the next Welsh Labour leader?

The election will be held on a one-member-one-vote basis, with all Welsh Labour members that joined the party before 12 December 2023 (the day before Drakeford resigned) eligible to vote.

What is the timeline for the Welsh Labour leadership election?

The Welsh Labour Executive Committee met on 13 December 2023 to agree the following timeline: 47 Ruth Mosalski, ‘Who is going to replace Mark Drakeford as Welsh Labour leader’ WalesOnline, 13 December 2023, retrieved 22 December 2023, www.walesonline.co.uk/news/politics/who-going-replace-mark-drakeford-28280588.

  • 18 December: Nominations open
  • 21 December: Member of the Senedd (MS) nominations close and candidates meeting the minimum threshold of support are announced
  • 29 January: CLP and affiliate nominations close and final candidates are announced
  • 30 January: Hustings period begins
  • 16 February: Ballot opens
  • 21 February: Hustings period ends
  • 14 March: Ballot closes
  • 16 March: New Welsh Labour leader is announced

What is the process to appoint a new first minister?

Mark Drakeford will remain first minister until the conclusion of the Welsh Labour leadership contest, at which point he will hand in his resignation to the King. The Senedd will then have 28 days to nominate a replacement, 48 Government of Wales Act 2006 c.32 s 46. who will be formally appointed by the King on the recommendation of the Senedd’s Presiding Officer. 49 ibid, s 47.

Any MS can stand to become first minister, although the winner of the Welsh Labour leadership election is virtually guaranteed to win the nomination vote in the Senedd.

If the new Welsh Labour leader is the only nominated candidate, they will be declared the ‘nominee’. If multiple candidates are nominated, all MSs vote in a single round and the candidate with the most votes is declared the nominee. 50 Welsh Parliament, Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, Welsh Parliament, September 2023, retrieved 9 January 2024, www.senedd.wales/guidance.

If no nominations for first minister are made within 28 days, the process to hold an ‘extraordinary general election’ would begin. 51 Government of Wales Act 2006 c.32 s 5.

Who is standing to succeed Mark Drakeford?

There are two candidates in the race to replace Mark Drakeford.

Minister for the economy Vaughan Gething, who announced he would be standing to be leader on 14 December 2023, 52 Vaughan Gething, Tweet, 14 December 2023, www.x.com/vaughangething/status/1735268101808124150?s=20. has been an MS since 2011 and served as minister for health and social services from 2016 until 2021. He came second in the 2018 leadership election.

Jeremy Miles, minister for education and the Welsh language, announced he would stand to replace Drakeford on 18 December 2023. 53 Jeremy Miles, Tweet, 18 December 2023, www.x.com/Jeremy_Miles/status/1736703275523547435?s=20

An MS since 2016, Miles was previously minister for European transition from 2018 until 2021.

Either candidate would represent a ‘first’ as Gething would be the first Black first minister and Miles the first openly gay first minister.

What are the candidates' platforms?

On 8 January 2024, Miles set out ‘six pledges for Wales’ future’: to stimulate the green economy, invest in education, cut NHS waiting lists, provide more social housing, re-regulate the buses, and strengthen Welsh democracy, including by devolving power within Wales. 54 Jeremy Miles, Tweet, 8 January 2024, www.x.com/Jeremy_Miles/status/1744293991846175038?s=20

On 15 January 2024, Gething launched his campaign with five priorities for Wales: to create a new ‘Welsh Health Covenant’ where health and social care funding per head will not fall below that of England, invest in infrastructure, increase green jobs, improve standards in schools, and increase devolution – including out of Cardiff and into communities. 55 Labour List, ‘Vaughan Gething campaign launch speech, ‘A first Black European leader would show we can all realise our potential’’, Labour List, 15 January 2024, retrieved 16 January 2024, www.labourlist.org/2024/01/vaughan-gething-campaign-speech-a-first-black-european-leader-would-show-we-can-all-realise-our-potential/

Both candidates want a review of the 20mph speed limit policy. 56 Arron Evans, ‘Vaughan Gething 'keen' for 20mph review amid backlash’, North Wales Chronicle, 26 December 2023, retrieved 9 January 2024, www.northwaleschronicle.co.uk/news/24006051.vaughan-gething-keen-20mph-review-amid-backlash/

Will the change of first minister impact the Labour-Plaid Cooperation Agreement?

The Labour-Plaid Cymru Cooperation Agreement, signed on 1 December 2021, works to ensure that the two parties cooperate on defined policy commitments. Having won 30 of the 60 Senedd seats at the 2021 election, Labour lacked an overall majority, and the agreement aimed to deliver a “stable Senedd, capable of delivering radical change and reform." 57 Welsh Government, ‘The Co-operation Agreement: 2021’, Welsh Government, 22 November 2021, retrieved 9 January 2024, www.gov.wales/co-operation-agreement-2021

Adam Price, Plaid Cymru leader when the agreement was signed, stepped down in May 2023. At that time Mark Drakeford stated that the agreement was between parties rather than individuals. 58 David Deans, ‘Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price quits after damning report’, BBC News, 11 May 2023, retrieved 9 January 2024, www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-65553413

The agreement expires in December 2024, and neither Welsh Labour leadership candidate has argued for ending the agreement early. However, new Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth has confirmed that he will not seek to renew the agreement once it expires. 59 Will Hayward, ‘The Rhun ap Iorwerth interview, 'I will end the cooperation agreement after Mark Drakeford stands down'’, Wales Online, 6 October 2023, retrieved 9 January 2024, www.walesonline.co.uk/news/politics/rhun-ap-iorwerth-interview-i-27855514.amp.

How have previous first ministers of Wales been chosen?

All four previous first ministers have been Welsh Labour leaders. Three of the four have taken the post midway through a Senedd session.

An Institute for Government timeline chart showing previous first ministers of Wales from May 1999 to January 2024 and their length of tenure. Rhodri Morgan is shown as the longest serving first minister.

The first Welsh first minister (then titled first secretary) was Alun Michael, who, backed by prime minister Tony Blair, became Welsh Labour leader in October 1998. Michael won the contest due to strong trade union support; his rival Rhodri Morgan won more votes amongst Welsh Labour party members.

Michael was selected as Welsh Assembly leader after the first devolved election in May 1999, but resigned less than a year later when facing defeat on a confidence motion. 

Morgan was the only candidate to replace Michael as Welsh Labour leader. His nomination to become first minister was also unopposed. 60 Geoffrey Gibbs and Lucy Ward, ‘Morgan pledges to heal Labour wounds in Wales’, The Guardian, 12 February 2000, retrieved 9 January 2024, www.theguardian.com/politics/2000/feb/12/wales.devolution He was reappointed first minister after the 2003 and 2007 elections, and served until December 2009.

Upon Morgan’s retirement, Carwyn Jones defeated Edwina Hart and Huw Lewis to become the new Welsh Labour leader. Jones’ initial nomination as first minister was unopposed, and he was reappointed after the 2011 election. 

After the 2016 election, Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood, was also nominated. There was a tie in the Senedd first minister nomination vote, but Jones was re-elected after inter-party negotiations.

Jones served until 2018, following which Mark Drakeford, then finance secretary, beat Vaughan Gething and Eluned Morgan to become the new party leader.

Drakeford was then nominated alongside the leaders of the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru, but received the most votes. After the 2021 election he was nominated unopposed.

United Kingdom
Wales
Political party
Labour Plaid Cymru
Devolved administration
Welsh government
Legislature
Senedd
Public figures
Mark Drakeford
Publisher
Institute for Government

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