Mark Drakeford has announced he will step down as the First Minister of Wales and the leader of Welsh Labour.

He took office as First Minister exactly five years ago to the day on December 13, 2018.

Mr Drakeford said a leadership contest to elect his successor will be concluded by Easter, with a UK general election on the horizon.

He said: “There’s been exactly five years since I’ve accepted this role.

“And when I stood for the leadership of the Labour party in Wales, I said that if I were to be elected I would aim to serve four or five years.”

Mr Drakeford stressed: “I will be fully focused until the day I cease being First Minister on the job that I do on behalf of people here in Wales…

“There will be plenty of time for political obituaries and retrospection once I cease to be First Minister – but not before.

“In a five-year period that 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.”

Vaughan Gething, Jeremy Miles and Eluned Morgan – Wales’ economy, education and health ministers respectively – are the frontrunners to become the next First Minister.

Rebecca Evans and Julie James, who are responsible for finance and climate change respectively, have also been touted as potential candidates.

First Minister Mark Drakeford during a Welsh Government coronavirus press conference
First Minister Mark Drakeford during a Welsh Government coronavirus press conference

An ITV Wales/YouGov poll this week showed Mr Drakeford’s popularity with the Welsh public has dipped to an 18-month low.

Mr Drakeford equalled Labour’s best ever result in 2021 – winning half of the Senedd’s 60 seats – following bleak polling for his party in the early run-up to the election.

The turnaround in the polls has been credited to the way Mr Drakeford cautiously steered Wales through the pandemic.

Mr Drakeford has been in the Welsh Government since 2013 when he was appointed health minister by his predecessor Carwyn Jones. He served as finance minister from 2016.

He has said he will remain an MS until the end of the Senedd term in 2026.

Mr Drakeford, whose wife Clare died in January 2023, has been at the heart of Welsh democracy since the then-National Assembly for Wales was founded in May 1999.

A former special adviser, he was first elected to succeed Rhodri Morgan as the Cardiff West representative in May 2011.

Mr Drakeford was head of Rhodri Morgan’s political office while he was First Minister.

He wrote Mr Morgan’s famous “clear red water” speech setting out a Welsh Labour strategy of distinguishing itself from the UK party which was led by Tony Blair at the time.

Mr Drakeford, who was a Labour councillor in the 1980s and 1990s, was previously a probation officer and youth justice worker.

A professor of social policy and applied social sciences, he taught at Cardiff and Swansea Universities where his students included Leanne Wood – the former Plaid Cymru leader.

“His dignity in leadership was vital”

Reacting to news of Mr Drakeford’s resignation, Caerphilly’s Labour MS Hefin David said he would “always be grateful… for his leadership during the pandemic, the greatest crisis of my lifetime”. 

Dr David continued: “He endeavoured throughout to do the right thing for the people of Wales. Mark listened to the community of Caerphilly and did all he could to keep us safe. 

I was able to have regular meetings with him and to feed back views I picked up via Facebook Live sessions during lockdown.

He always acted on concerns that people raised. His dignity in leadership was vital at that time. Diolch First Minister”.