Far from over – The First Minister contest

Head of Public Affairs, Craig Lawton, assesses what we can expect from the Welsh Labour Leadership contest in the coming weeks and months. December 2023

Less than one week after Mark Drakeford announced his plan to step down as First Minister, triggering a leadership contest within Welsh Labour, we now know who the contenders are.

Welsh Labour will choose between Vaughan Gething, who currently holds the role of Economy Minister, and Jeremy Miles, the Education Minister.

While Welsh Labour’s nomination process had allowed for more candidates to get enough support to run, the last few days has seen Gething and Miles hoover up all available nominations.

There had been an expectation that a woman might enter the contest, with some tipping current Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, Hannah Blythyn, as someone who could also speak for North Wales. However, as Mark Drakeford spoke over the weekend about how the abuse he has experience may put women off from running, Blythyn was herself lining up behind Miles.

This means that Miles (the MS for Neath) has beaten Gething (MS for Cardiff South & Penarth)16-9 in Labour MS nominations.

Nominations formally close on 21 December, however Constituency Labour Party (CLP) and affiliate nominations remain open until 29 January.

Expect both candidates to seek the support of CLPs and affiliates, such as trade unions, in the new year as they look to show that their support – and crucially their vision – stretches far beyond the confines of Cardiff Bay.

We will be presented with an interesting dynamic once the Senedd Christmas recess ends, as both candidates hold influential ministerial roles. This means they will continue to work on current Welsh Government policy and take questions in the Senedd.

At the same time, internal Welsh Labour hustings will run from the end of January until 21 February, with member and affiliate voting opening on 16 February and closing just prior to the announcement of results on 14 March 2024.

While Miles has already stated he is “determined to build” on Mark Drakeford’s legacy, Gething has focused on the “crucial opportunity to have two Labour governments working side-by-side.”

With the UK polls pointing to a UK Labour victory in next year’s general election, one of the first points of contention could be over the role that the Welsh Labour Government plays alongside a Labour Government in Westminster.

Equally as important will be the candidates’ views on Welsh Government’s Co-operation Agreement with Plaid Cymru in the Senedd. After new Plaid leader Rhun ap Iorwerth re-affirmed his commitment to the deal made by his predecessor, will either Miles or Gething move to cut short the deal that is due to end in December 2024?

We can therefore expect the first quarter of 2024 to be dominated by statements, press coverage, and social media noise from the candidates as well as their supporters, inside the Senedd and across Wales, as both Miles and Gething make their pitches for the top job. The contest is far from over!