In December 2023 Wales first minister Mark Drakeford announced he was stepping down as the Welsh Labour leader with immediate effect and standing down as first minister in March 2024. A leadership contest has now been launched.
Mr Drakeford had already indicated that he would leave his role before the end of the current Senedd term in 2026 and has said he would leave the Welsh Parliament entirely at the next election.
There are two candidates in the contest: Minister for Economy and MS for Cardiff South and Penarth Vaughan Gething, and Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language and MS for Neath. At the moment Mr Gething is seen as the frontrunner.
Both are considered experienced operators in the Senedd, though it has been suggested Mr Miles experience as a native Welsh speaker could help his support in the contest. Mr Gething outlined his approach to politics in a recent Guardian interview whilst Mr Miles was one of the first to pay tribute to Mark Drakeford’s work. Vaughan Gething is seen as closer to Keir Starmer politically whereas Jeremy Miles is closer to the existing Welsh Labour programme.
In his campaign Jeremy Miles has focused on delivering a green economy and tackling challenges in the NHS and housebuilding. He has also sought to build on his record in education, pledging to increase the percentage of the Welsh Government budget spent on schools.
Meanwhile Vaughan Gething has centred his campaign on the NHS, with a focus on funding and new partnerships with patients, unions and local government. Gething has also highlighted his commitment to reforms of the council tax system in Wales as a key part of his campaign.
Minister for Health and Social Services Eluned Morgan, who ran in the previous contest in 2018, was a potential candidate for the 2024 contest but ruled herself out. She later highlighted her concern about a lack of women in senior political roles in Wales.
Voting in the Welsh leadership election is scheduled to begin on 16th February 2024 with a new leader announced on 16th March 2024. About 18,000 Welsh Labour members will vote on their preferred candidate.
The new first minister will have just over two years to get settled into the role until the next scheduled Senedd election which is due on or before 7 May 2026.
Whoever is elected will have a bulging in-tray. Top issues for the coming year include: the severe challenges in the Welsh NHS, battling culture wars around the 20mph speed limit changes, all whilst dealing with a fragile government budget. Alongside this, the new first minister will need to continue with the careful management of the relationship with Plaid Cymru and the delivery of the co-operation agreement between Plaid and Welsh Labour in 2021.