All three major Welsh parties need new blood at the top

All three major Welsh parties need new blood at the top
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Mark Drakeford. Picture by Christopher Jones / Alamy Stock Photo. Adam Price. Credit: Euan Kirsche/WENN. Sened Cymru. Image by Andrew RT Davies of Senedd Cymru (CC BY 2.0).

Theo Davies Lewis

It’s almost like he can’t wait to finish the job. Mark Drakeford, who has admitted he had “no burning desire” to lead the country in 2018, now says it’s time Wales elected “someone who looks to the next 25 years” of decentralisation. Since the First Minister took over the reins at the age of 64, political observers have pondered his successor. Finally, in keeping with Welsh political tradition, they have now been ceremonially introduced to Barn by Professor Richard Wyn Jones.

Professor Wyn Jones is right that Jeremy Miles and Vaughan Gething are likely to be front runners in any competition. And while we hold top positions in the cabinet, we know little about what type of government either wants to lead. But a few assumptions can be made.

Firstly, Miles is set up as a continuity candidate, in line with the Welsh-speaking areas and more closely aligned with the Labor tradition laid down during devolution. Second, Gething could be the natural choice of the party establishment in London, while the Business Secretary has greater ministerial experience and overwhelming support from the unions that dominate the Welsh Labor election.

Every coronation is preceded by guesswork. It is in the nature of our politics that we know little about Welsh Labor leaders until they wear the crown. It’s only when such high-stakes candidates are being scrutinized that they occasionally drop the mask, as Mark Drakeford did when he confided in his reluctance to be in the limelight. But maybe we’ll know more about the top two by the next competition. After all, they are already on manoeuvres.

Gething attended the Labor Party business conference, where he shook hands with Starmer and appeared on a high-profile panel, as well as Qatar during the World Cup. He has recently given a number of interviews, most notably with the Institute of Welsh Affairs’ Welsh Agenda magazine last month. On the front page, Gething looks down at the reader from a vantage point in the Senedd. The headline ‘The Economic Challenge’ could be read as shorthand for Gething’s portfolio or as Labor’s tally since 1999.

Miles’ ambition is not so naked. There were no visits to the Welsh camp in Doha, but to schools and colleges across the country – perhaps ‘get on with work’ is the strategy. However, he is the face of Welsh language policy. Cymraeg 2050 has become his delivery schedule; a poison chalice or a unique good, depending on how you look at it. But whether your portfolio is education, business, health or transport, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to defend as a Secretary of Labor. Luckily for candidates, the scrutiny comes only from party members in every election.

Wrong War

Miles vs Gething may be the definitive fight, but next year there will be the wrong war for leadership. Only the First Minister knows his timeline for resigning. Which, judging by his own words of not wanting to leave when things “were getting tough,” probably won’t be announced until the second half of 2023. No potential successor will want to take the first step, but rather ensure a gradual advance over the next 12 months: gaining favor with Senedd members, working with unions, meeting party members and wooing the media establishment.

The First Minister is right that new blood is needed. But the success of second-generation devolution, while heavily dependent on talent in Welsh Labour, will also require new leadership from the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru. Opposition parties must answer profound questions about their identities ahead of the next Senedd elections, which will ultimately be determined by their leader in the years to come.

I doubt either Andrew RT Davies or Adam Price will be at the top in 2026. Whoever he or she may be, the coming of a new First Minister will bring new challenges. (Not to mention the prospect of a Labor government in Westminster by 2024, which will change the national political landscape.) Both opposition leaders have already been given several opportunities to change the electoral map in Wales and their vision has been tested as much as possible .

So Conservatives and Nationalists alike may agree: a different era of Welsh politics calls for a different approach. These people would be right. With a new leader comes new opportunities.


Welsh Conservatives have tumbled to the Devo-skeptic and right wing under RT’s second coming. At least it was a distinctive brand. But the party’s alignment in Wales with its parent company in London has consequences, polls suggest ahead of a Tory annihilation in the next general election. A successor installed 18 months ahead of an election in Senedd could take the Welsh party on a more pragmatic path closer to the vision of those who led it in the first decade of the century.

Samuel Kurtz is traded as a possible successor. A young Welsh orator from a rural background, his appeal at par to the party’s grassroots is clear. It could bear fruit for the Conservatives and lead to a more constructive role for the party in decentralized Wales. However, as with any untested candidate, there are some doubts. Perhaps unkindly (which columnists sometimes are), I wrote earlier this year that he was a “politically inexperienced Pembrokeshire farmer”. Shortly after, a friend wrote that the quote appeared in Kurtz’s bio on Twitter. It is always prudent for any aspiring politician to put commentary aside and instead focus on the electoral challenges facing their party.

Plaid Cymru’s leadership issue is more existential. Adam Price is a gifted economist, emotional speaker (especially among friends) and expectations were high when he succeeded Leanne Wood. He has advanced Welsh nationalism to the point that his political platform now shapes a significant part of the government agenda from 2021 onwards. But is Plaid ready to play second fiddle forever? It also remains unclear how they will find their way in the political landscape after the end of the cooperation agreement. A response will be needed next year.


Questions of strategy will forever haunt Welsh nationalism. Whether a leader would make a significant difference to Plaid Cymru is a fair challenge. And take over who? With Rhun ap Iorwerth aiming to represent Ynys Môn at Westminster in 2024, there is no obvious replacement. Arfon Jones, speaking to Nation.Cymru this week, called for Delyth Jewell to succeed Price. But if keen observers of politics note that we know little about Miles and Gething, it’s probably fair to say the Welsh public wouldn’t even recognize Jewell on their TV.

The final stretch of Drakeford’s era brings urgency to the issue of leadership in Wales. Of course, the fundamentals of our politics always remain the same: Welsh Labor’s internal struggles always trump everything else. But people, especially leaders, can shift the scale. With a new First Minister from a different generation, a collective refresher should follow for the next phase of decentralization. In 2023 all political parties must let this sham war begin.

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