In Britain it is rare for politicians to be able to decide how their career ends. But that’s not the case in Wales. Welsh Labour leaders enjoy such a tight grip over events that they can pick the exact moment they leave the damp stage at Cardiff Bay, even after a remarkably long time in power. Rhodri Morgan served as First Minister for close to ten years; Carwyn Jones was in the job for nine. Neither experienced serious challenges to their leadership.
In the absence of parliamentary drama, electoral upsets and competent opposition, this slumberous pattern will continue. After four years, Mark Drakeford has indicated it will soon be time for him to go.
As so often with the First Minister there has been little theatre when it comes to his departure. Unlike his predecessor Jones, who dramatically (and unexpectedly) announced his resignation at a party conference in 2018, Drakeford has been consistent about not wanting to be leader forever. Even when he ran to be First Minister in 2018, he proclaimed ‘no burning desire’ to be leader.
In a recent interview the First Minister conceded he didn’t expect to be in the job beyond 2024. The time is right, he says, to elect ‘somebody who looks ahead to the next 25 years’ of devolution. What that means in reality is that another Labour politician will wear the crown of Welsh politics, after an internal leadership election concludes.
Becoming leader of Labour in Wales tends to mean an almost guaranteed decade in power. And there are two obvious candidates to take the helm. Jeremy Miles and Vaughan Gething are at the heart of the devolved government, holding briefs for education and the economy respectively. The only problem is that we have little idea about the kinds of government they would want to lead.