Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford today announced his resignation after five years in office.
The 69-year-old triggered a contest to find his successor as Welsh Labour leader and expressed his hope that a replacement First Minister will be installed before Easter.
Mr Drakeford announced his departure at a news conference in Cardiff on the fifth anniversary of the day he first became First Minister.
During a rollercoaster half-decade in power, Mr Drakeford saw his popularity surge as he led Wales through the Covid crisis.
But his approval ratings have since slumped amid continued woes for the NHS in Wales and the controversial imposition of widespread 20mph limits on Welsh roads.
At the beginning of this year, Mr Drakeford was struck by tragedy when his wife Clare died suddenly.
He spent most of 2020 isolating from Clare in a hut in their garden in order to keep her and her elderly mother safe while they were shielding during the Covid pandemic.
Mr Drakeford’s exit follows tensions with Labour’s national leader Sir Keir Starmer, who recently admitted to ‘challenges’ in his relationship with the Welsh administration in Cardiff.
Sir Keir has also attempted to backtrack from a past claim that Mr Drakeford’s Welsh Government would be a ‘blueprint for what Labour can do across the UK’.
The Labour leader today hailed Mr Drakeford as a ‘titan’ of Welsh politics, but Sir Keir’s spokesman wouldn’t say whether he was sad to see the First Minister go.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford today announced his resignation after five years in office
At the beginning of this year, Mr Drakeford was struck by tragedy when his wife Clare died suddenly
Mr Drakeford saw his popularity surge as he led Wales through the Covid crisis, during which he staged daily TV briefings
Mr Drakeford was first elected to the Senedd in 2011 as the Member for Cardiff West.
He served in various ministerial roles from 2013 under the leadership of Carwyn Jones, before succeeding Mr Jones as First Minister and Welsh Labour leader in December 2018.
When the Covid crisis hit in early 2020, Mr Drakeford and other devolved leaders – such as Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon – saw their popularity soar as they led their nations through the pandemic.
Mr Drakeford followed both then-prime minister Boris Johnson and Ms Sturgeon in holding daily TV briefings.
He often found himself at odds with Westminster over what level of pandemic restrictions to impose, as all four nations pursued their own Covid rules.
As the pandemic eased, Mr Drakeford saw a slide in his approval ratings among Welsh voters as he was confronted by various crises in public services.
Last month, NHS waiting times for treatment in Welsh hospitals hit another record high.
Mr Drakeford also faced intense anger over his imposition of widespread 20mph limits on Welsh roads.
A recent YouGov poll of Welsh voters found Mr Drakeford’s popularity to be at an 18-month low, with more than half believing he is doing a bad job of being First Minister.
Mr Drakeford is immediately standing down as Labour leader, but stressed he would continue to serve as First Minister until his replacement is found.
‘In the meantime, I will remain as First Minister in the full sense of that job,’ he said.
Mr Drakeford insisted he still had a lot to achieve over the coming months and there would be ‘plenty of time for political obituaries and retrospection once I’ve ceased to be First Minister, but not before’.
He added: ‘In a five-year period, which has seen Wales deal with austerity, Brexit, the Covid pandemic, the climate crisis, wars in Ukraine and the Middle East and four different prime ministers – so far – there will be lots to reflect upon.
‘The next Welsh leader and first minister will, I hope, have an opportunity which has not come my way and that is to work with a newly-elected Labour government in London.
‘And I will work as hard as I can to see that Labour government elected.’
Mr Drakeford pictured on a visit to Qatar last year after he travelled to support the Welsh men’s football team during the World Cup
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer recently sought to distance himself from a past claim that Mr Drakeford’s administration would be a ‘blueprint for what Labour can do across the UK’
Mr Drakeford pictured with King Charles, then Prince of Wales, at Llwynywermod in Llandovery, Carmarthenshire, in 2019
Mr Drakeford was the only member of the Welsh Government cabinet to vote for Jeremy Corbyn during the Left-winger’s first Labour leadership bid in 2015
Mr Drakeford in the Welsh Senedd in October 2017 when he announced his intention to stand in the Welsh Labour leadership contest to succeed Carwyn Jones
A group of people protest against 20mph speed limits outside the Senedd building in Cardiffin October
Mr Drakeford had previously announced his intention to quit the Welsh Parliament at the next Senedd elections in 2026.
But he signalled he planned to remain involved in political debate even if he was away from the frontline.
‘I think of it like Tony Benn – when he decided to leave the House of Commons, he said, “I’m going to stop being an MP in order to spend more time in politics”,’ Mr Drakeford said in August.
‘I’m not going to be a Member of the Senedd after 2026 but I am not going to step back from the debate or stop thinking about Wales’ future.’
Born and raised in west Wales, Mr Drakeford has lived in the Pontcanna area of Cardiff for more than 30 years.
Before entering politics he worked as a probation officer before becoming a lecturer at Swansea University and then Cardiff University, where he became professor of social policy and applied social sciences.
His first move into government came as a special adviser to former first minister Rhodri Morgan, and he wrote Mr Morgan’s ‘clear red water’ speech which promoted the differences between Labour in Wales and New Labour in London under Tony Blair.
Seen as on the Left of Labour, when he became leader in 2018 he promised to govern ‘in the radical socialist tradition of Aneurin Bevan and Michael Foot’.
The only member of the Welsh Government cabinet to vote for Jeremy Corbyn during his first national leadership bid in 2015, in office Mr Drakeford largely maintained the party’s enduring dominance of Welsh politics – leading the party to a strong performance in the 2021 Senedd elections.
Earlier this year, Sir Keir sought to distance himself from his past claim that the Welsh Labour government would be a ‘blueprint for what Labour can do across the UK’ if they entered power at Westminster.
Speaking in October, Sir Keir said he ‘can’t pretend’ there are not challenges in his relationship with Mr Drakeford’s administration.
‘I don’t think anybody watching this would suggest there aren’t challenges,’ he said. ‘Of course, there are challenges.’
Mr Drakeford and Clare had three children during their marriage.
Their son, now known as Jay Humphries, was jailed this summer for breaching a sex offender’s order after his release from prison.
He was sentenced to more than eight years in prison in 2018 under his old name, Jonathan Drakeford, after being found guilty of rape and inflicting actual bodily harm.
Speaking in the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon, Rishi Sunak paid tribute to Mr Drakeford’s ‘devoted public service’.
He told MPs: ‘I know everyone will want to join me in wishing Mark Drakeford all the best as he moves on from his many, many years of devoted public service.’
Tory chairman Richard Holden also thanked Mr Drakeford for his service, but said Labour’s ’25 years of failure running Wales cannot be ignored’.
‘Sir Keir calls Wales his ‘blueprint’ for a Labour government across the UK – but Welsh Labour are failing the Welsh people across the board,’ Mr Holden added.
‘With falling schools standards, blanket 20mph speed limits, and blocking meal deals in supermarkets, the Labour Government in Wales have been focused on short-term soundbites.’
Sir Keir hailed Mr Drakeford as a ‘titan’ of Welsh politics, saying: ‘Mark has set a clear standard for public service in UK politics, always putting others before himself.’
‘During his five years as First Minister, against a backdrop of austerity, instability in Westminster and navigating the pandemic, he has delivered for Wales with steely determination and quiet authority,’ he added.
‘Above all, Mark is a kind and decent man, who lives his Labour values.
‘A proud Welshman, Wales too can be proud of Mark, for his fight for working people. He’s a true titan of Welsh and Labour politics.
‘It has been a pleasure to work alongside him and we all wish him the very best for his retirement.’
Nicola Sturgeon, who quit as Scotland’s first minister earlier this year, hailed Mr Drakeford as ‘one of the most decent, dedicated, principled, and impressive politicians’
Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said: ‘I wish Mark well as he stands down from the helm.
‘While we may have different visions for Wales, I know I’m joined by colleagues in holding a huge amount of respect for his dedication to the job of first minister.
‘It’s important, however, with this announcement that there is no distraction from the really important job of delivering for the people of Wales. Labour politicians jockeying for the role of first minister must not detract from this.’
Ms Sturgeon, who quit as Scotland’s first minister earlier this year, hailed Mr Drakeford as ‘without doubt one of the most decent, dedicated, principled, and impressive politicians I had the privilege of working with in my time as FM’.
The former SNP leader added: ‘He will be the hardest of acts to follow’.
Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth paid tribute to Mr Drakeford’s ‘dedication to public life’ and the ‘tone of his leadership’ during the Covid pandemic.
But he added: ‘When he took office, the First Minister spoke of the opportunities that came with the position of leading the Welsh Government.
‘Regrettably, those opportunities have been squandered, resulting in longer waiting lists, falling educational standards and a stagnant economy.’
Rachel Evans, Director of Countryside Alliance Wales said: ‘I wish Mark Drakeford the very best for the future. As we start a new chapter for Wales, I sincerely hope Welsh Labour end their ongoing attack on our countryside and rural communities.
‘We will be urging all candidates to be the new FM to work with the people of the countryside to enhance and promote rural Wales. Right now it feels like it’s Cardiff against the countryside and that needs to change.’