Posted: Tue 19th Mar 2024

Mark Drakeford bids emotional farewell as Wales’ First Minister

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

Senedd members from across the political divide paid tribute to Mark Drakeford as he officially resigned after five years as Wales’ first minister.

Fighting back tears, Mark Drakeford said the past 12 months since the loss of his wife Clare have been the hardest and saddest of his life.

He said: “People will not see … those small acts of kindness that happen every day from people in every part of this chamber to help someone to get through very difficult times.

“We debate vigorously and with a conviction of our own beliefs. But as human beings in this chamber we are always, I believe, among friends.”

The outgoing first minister received a standing ovation from all sides of the chamber following his resignation statement on March 19.

‘Political turbulence’

He said he took over while Wales was still in the grip of austerity, with a “bad deal” Brexit, devastating storms, the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis to follow.

Prof Drakeford, who will today submit his resignation to the King, pointed out he has worked with four different prime ministers and five chancellors during his time as first minister.

He told the chamber: “The turbulence we have seen abroad has been matched by the political turbulence closer to home.
“There have been changes here too – I’ve answered questions from six party leaders over the last five years and my term has spanned both a Senedd election and the development of a cooperation agreement.
“My aim throughout my time as first minister has been to use the mandate my party and my government secured to keep the promises we made to people across Wales.”

‘Progressive cause’

Prof Drakeford told the chamber change is always challenging but he has strived to do things which are difficult today to benefit generations to come.

The former university lecturer said: “If you set out to be a radical, reforming government then you have to be prepared for opposition.
“No ground was ever gained without a struggle for a progressive cause.

“Even when the case for change is so clear or the object of change so apparently innocuous, there will always be vested interests – some of them benign, others determined not to surrender their own positions of power and privilege.
“This has been a feature of my time as first minister.”

‘Easy decision’

Prof Drakeford, who has been on the frontline of Welsh politics since the dawn of devolution, said the first major decision he faced was whether to proceed with an M4 relief road.

He told MSs: “The easy decision would have been to say ‘go ahead’.

“Powerful voices were lined up in support of it. My decision – having spent many, many days reading and thinking about it – was that that was not in the long-term interests of Wales.

“Even in these past couple of weeks the debates we have been having about reforming council tax, the school year, eliminating profit from the care of looked-after children – every one of those will be opposed.

“But if you are in the business of progressive politics and using the opportunity that comes your way, your job is to stick to the things you believe will make the greatest difference.”

‘Dedication’

Andrew RT Davies praised the outgoing first minister’s ability to empathise with communities the length and breadth of Wales.

The leader of the Conservative group in the Senedd thanked Prof Drakeford for his leadership during the darkest hours of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: “You have brought such dedication and professionalism.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth hailed Prof Drakeford’s willingness to engage constructively.

The Plaid Cymru leader said: “We all have come to appreciate that he has been without doubt, a dedicated public servant and a serious first minister for serious times.”

Jane Dodds quoted Kirsty Williams, the former Lib-Dem education minister, as describing Prof Drakeford as a “tough opponent but the very best of colleagues”.

Ms Dodds, the Lib Dems’ leader in Wales, said: “You have raised the bar in terms of your intellect, in terms of challenge and I wish you well for the future.”

‘Radical tradition’

Prof Drakeford, who has confirmed he plans to stand down as Cardiff West MS at the 2026 election, told members he will continue to play his part from the backbenches.

He said he will work with his successor to safeguard the “beliefs and values of the great Welsh radical tradition” to ensure it remains relevant to the nature of today’s Wales.

Closing the statement, he said:  “I’m grateful to all those people who help, I’m grateful to all colleagues here but I’m most grateful of all to the people who we are lucky enough to serve.”

 

By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter

[Photo: Mark Drakeford MS answers questions in Plenary for the last time as First Minister, 19 March 2024/Welsh Government ]

 

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