A communist perspective on Welsh Labour and Mark Drakeford

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford
Welsh Labour recently celebrated 100 years of electoral victory and hailed themselves “the most successful political party in the democratic world”. It is worth taking a look at the nation's dominant political party under Mark Drakeford from the perspective of Welsh Communists.
Welsh Labour recently celebrated 100 years of electoral victory and hailed themselves “the most successful political party in the democratic world”. It is worth taking a look at the nation's dominant political party under Mark Drakeford from the perspective of Welsh Communists.
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Welsh Labour recently celebrated 100 years of electoral victory and hailed themselves “the most successful political party in the democratic world”. Party leader Mark Drakeford also announced that he is to step down in 2024.

With these two announcements in mind, it is worth taking a brief look at the nation’s dominant political party under Mark Drakeford from the perspective of Welsh communists.

There is a wealth of writing on Welsh Labour by Welsh socialists, progressives and Plaid Cymru members, but a dearth of criticism from communists in Wales. This is odd, considering that Wales is ran by a party that is perceived to be progressive. The party prides itself on having “clear red water” separating them from Westminster.

It is time for us to take a sober look at Mark Drakeford and Welsh Labour.

What does Mark Drakeford believe?

A polemic on Welsh Labour wouldn’t be appropriate without commenting on its reigning figurehead, even more so because there seems to be a level of mystery surrounding the extent of Mark Drakeford’s socialist leanings.

On the one hand there are people on the right who seem to view Drakeford as the second coming of Lenin. And some figures on the Labour left seem to think similarly – like Corbyn who praised Drakeford’s electoral success in 2021 as displaying socialist values.

On the other hand, we can look at what Drakeford himself says. In his 2018 victory speech, he claimed that under his leadership the Welsh Labour party would follow radical socialist traditions, and in a handful of speeches he has proclaimed that Welsh Labour policies follow in a tradition of practical and “progressive” socialism. We shall analyse the extent to which this is true in a moment.

Curiously, it is difficult to find evidence of Drakeford calling himself a socialist. Indeed, he recently labelled himself a Keynesian in an interview with the tabloid Wales Online. 

Here is how Welsh Communists can distinguish Drakeford from Corbyn, and identify his contribution to political complacency and apathy in Wales: his position as a Labour party politician is completely free from any agitation for the industrial struggle and anti-imperialism.

Mark Drakeford and Keir Starmer

Furthermore, it is pertinent to examine Mark Drakeford’s relationship to the current leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer.

Drakeford’s recent endorsement of Keir Starmer cements his abandonment of a vision for a progressive Welsh Labour party. In a recent speech laden with admirable ambitions to redistribute power and enact radical reforms – where he criticised the current voting system and even stated “each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” – Mark Drakeford claimed that Keir Starmer will be the prime minister to implement these ambitions.

Astonishingly, in the same speech, he said Starmer is “someone who is motivated by duty, public services… and the party’s mission… not to offer some mild ameliorations but to eradicate poverty.”

There is a profound contradiction at work here. Any glance at who Keir Starmer has chosen to align himself with, his members of the shadow cabinet, and their statements (most notably that of Rachel Reeves) reveals that the UK Labour party is entirely at odds with Mark Drakeford’s claims.

Either Welsh Labour is entirely delusional over Keir Starmer’s ambitions to recklessly continue neoliberal policies as a Labour prime minister, or their wish is to keep posturing as the “radical” wing of the Labour party while enjoying their time as career politicians in their plush offices. The view from Cardiff Bay must be stunning.


That said, there has been a recent trend under the Mark Drakeford era to reject the will of the working class and the policies that benefit us. This can be acutely demonstrated by his messaging around Brexit. On 4 December 2019, he delivered the following address on the BBC:

“Our Brexit message is very clear and is very easy to explain on the doorstep. Only a vote for the Labour party will put the decision about Brexit back into the hands of the people. And in Wales we believe, as a government, that our future is better secured within the European Union. We will campaign to remain, but we will never have that chance without a Labour government.”

Wales had a 71.7% voter turnout for the EU referendum in 2016, with 52% voting to leave the European Union. The people of Wales exercised their democratic right to reject the European Union’s grip on the working class. Mark Drakeford’s rhetoric demonstrates a rejection of the people’s voice, and a pandering to left liberal pearl-clutching around the European Union.

Current Shadow Secretary of State for Wales Jo Stevens, an opponent of Labour’s whip on Brexit under Corbyn’s leadership, walking with Keir Starmer in Cardiff.

The reality is that the European Union is an imperialist entity. EU membership requires perpetuating economic policies that benefit the free market and private sector. Britain’s existence within it comes into direct conflict with the Labour Party’s advocacy for democratic, nationalised industries and utilities, as outlined in Jeremy Corbyn’s 2017 manifesto.

A manifesto for an economy that serves the working class is incompatible with the EU single market. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, along with numerous factions which Mark Drakeford is clearly sympathetic to, hindered Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party from gaining power at an all-Britain level with their continual negation of the people’s decision to leave the European Union in 2016.

Internationalism and Wales’ radical history

Meanwhile Drakeford’s Welsh Labour exhibits no shred of internationalism, nor anti-imperialism. The First Minister has allowed Wales to act as a training ground for Saudi Arabian pilots who will use their jets to drop bombs on Yemen. He has called for better ties to the neo-feudal state of Qatar, and members of the Senedd have been cosying up to arms dealers

Mark Drakeford did not ban Labour ministers from joining picket lines last summer, but if he is meaningfully distinct from Keir Starmer – as Welsh Labour supporters might claim – then why did he meekly acknowledge that Starmer is in a very different position? Such a response amounts to silence in the face of Starmer’s attacks against Labour MPs who stood in solidarity with rail unions on their picket lines. 

When a party that proclaims to be the political wing of trade unions chastises its members for supporting strikes, then playing party politics and falling in line should be thrown out of the window, because that party has become something else entirely. The same applies to Drakeford’s silence on the ruthless expulsion of socialists from the Labour Party, and punishment of socialist MPs within the party.

Wales’ history of internationalism has been hollowed out by Welsh Labour. For a party that speaks of “radicalism” to the public ad nauseum, there has been little to no recognition of Welsh people’s support for the anti-apartheid movement and the Second Spanish Republic, including Welsh members of the International Brigades.

In addition, Welsh socialists have proven themselves to be ardent supporters of Soviet and Cuban revolutionary struggles.

The only parts of radical history Welsh Labour will acknowledge are the Chartist uprisings, and the struggle of the National Union of Miners against Thatcherite de-industrialisation – and even the latter is a stretch. Ironically, if a genuine working class uprising on the scale of the Chartists were to take place today, Welsh Labour members of the Senedd would be horrified.

Indeed, Wales has a rich intellectual tradition of internationalist writing and praxis. Think of David Ivon Jones‘ and Vic Allen’s texts that agitate against apartheid and on behalf of the miners’ struggle, Will Paynter’s writing on trade unionism and the Second Spanish Republic, or Idris Cox’s analysis of imperialism.

These authors represent only part of the Welsh tradition of radical socialist writers, which also includes Communist Party of Britain General Secretary Rob Griffiths. The one thing that unites them is their absence from the rank-and-file of Welsh Labour.

Neoliberalism under Welsh Labour

Beyond rhetoric, it is helpful to look at the material conditions of Wales under Mark Drakeford’s leadership. We can begin our analysis with a quotation from the man himself. To his credit, he recognises his limitations: 

“We need to be clear about the part which the Welsh Government can, and cannot, play in economic development. Our economy operates in the context of powerful, global market forces, the fiscal strategy of the UK government, and regulation – or otherwise – of supra national companies and institutions.”

Given this statement, Drakeford’s silence, lack of socialist agitation, and refusal to build any sort of broad movement to operate as the political wing of trade unions and loudly convey the ills of the “powerful, global market” is rendered even more baffling.

But this is perfectly in line with a man who has espoused “radical socialist traditions” while also advertising himself as a meek Social Democrat or Keynesian when pushed by the press.

Drakeford’s statement needs to come under closer scrutiny in light of Welsh Labour’s economic policies and development plans since devolution was won. Yes, it is evident that any progressive government in a devolved nation will face significant resistance implementing economic reform. But the underdevelopment and neoliberal economic decisions of Welsh Labour render such constraints irrelevant.

Sam Parry, in his essay Neoliberalism: Perpetuating Welsh Underdevelopment? correctly identifies that Wales’ economic dependence on foreign direct investment is not new. Despite this, under the stewardship of Welsh Labour, the 21st century Welsh economy has undergone aggressive neoliberalisation.

These changes have been starkest in the health and social care sector, which by 2005 had “67 foreign-owned, private companies… employing 2,802 people”. And 40% of the manufacturing industry belonged to foreign firms by 2005 as well. 

It doesn’t – and didn’t – have to be this way. This can be shown in the case of the quasi-autonomous non-governmental Welsh Development Agency. Sam Parry points out that the organisation does indeed have “agency, and defined parameters within which it could work”. It has not been prescribed to follow neoliberal economic policies, either before or after it gained its powers of agency in 2006. 

But Welsh Labour is still blindly following its belief that “private companies, rather than the state” should be the driving force behind economic development, as shown by their Framework for Regional Investment in Wales.

Opting out of socialism

Mark Drakeford and Welsh Labour members of the Senedd, members of a party that has been politically dominant for a century and in power for 25 years, cannot just twiddle their thumbs and act like they have to accept an economic doctrine that divides and conquers, splits communities, and uses the language of competition to describe the livelihoods of human beings.

They do not even vocalise their opposition to neoliberalism, which is the very least they could do as a party in power.

But Welsh Labour do not want to end neoliberalism. They do not want to fight Starmer, and they do not want to serve as an effective political wing of trade unionists. 

When national, industrial, and class antagonisms are brushed to the side by leaders like Mark Drakeford, political leadership inevitably leads down the road of cuts, privatisation, and an international policy that is withdrawn from international socialist struggles.

Ultimately, Mark Drakeford’s government reveals itself to be – not a project of “21st Century socialism” – but an opt-out from socialism altogether.

An alternative: the YCL’s Youth Charter

So then the major question is: so what?

The Communist Party of Britain’s Britain’s Road to Socialism and the Young Communist League Youth Charter together offer an alternative to the neoliberalism of the Labour Party.

A broad movement of trade unions, socialists, and communists must advocate and agitate for the working class to take control of the economy.

The people of Wales do not need ski resorts, they need better funding for schools. The working class of Wales do not need their jobs outsourced and the factories that produce Welsh goods using Welsh resources shut down; they need a build-up of industry to take advantage of our resource-rich country.

Apprenticeships, a strengthened public sector, and efficient transportation that does not isolate half of the country are all possibilities with a government that does not blindly follow the ghost of Carwyn Jones’ neoliberalism and Starmer’s feckless agenda for Britain. 

The Young Communist League’s charter advocates for an alternative to the logic of neoliberalism. Its most striking policies include “public ownership and investment in utilities” along with the right to apprenticeships or two-year work placements with a real living wage, instead of apprenticeships at the behest of a foreign companies seeking to underpay young workers. 

The true scale of homelessness in Wales revealed as Cardiff services ...

Recently, Starmer told us that “what Mark Drakeford and his team are doing in Wales [is] changing the lives of people in Wales for the better.” We would question whether Keir Starmer is living on the same plane of reality as most people. It isn’t hard to see the urban decay present across the major towns and cities of Wales.

To walk around major cities such as Newport and Cardiff is to see historic buildings, parks and pubs, all built through the toil of workers throughout history. But there is also suffering: unprecedented levels of homelessness and poverty, in neighbourhoods where people have been robbed of a chance to live their lives with dignity. 

A new policy for housing

The devolved Welsh Labour Government has the power to increase their investment in the social housing grant, and to raise taxes on second homeowners and landowners in order to raise the funds for social housing.

Their choice to not direct their funds in this manner show that Welsh Labour’s loyalty does not lie with the working class.

Less than 1,000 social homes were built in Wales in 2021/2022, and since 2015, the amount of new homes – including private enterprise and registered social landlords – has not been sufficient for the demand, with 42,000 build or made available. These figures stand in stark contrast to the amount of people on the social housing waiting list, which reaches almost 70,000.

Our league is calling for a million new municipally owned council houses to be built, with a rolling supply of at least 200,000 per year to be built afterwards. We all deserve to live in dignity, and the bare minimum to achieve this is having a roof over your head.

Most importantly, this will need to occur in tandem with industrial change: a restructuring of our economy that will prevent communities from being afflicted by poverty in the first place.

These policies – in combination with Britain’s Road to Socialism’s call for the extra-parliamentary work of creating the case for socialism through the cooperation of the anti-war movement, trade unions, the Communist Party of Britain and the Young Communist League – should be put forward to the people of Wales as an alternative to the political apathy that Welsh Labour breeds. 

Ricardo Reyes is a member of the CPB’s Newport & Gwent Valleys branch, and Matthew Miller is a member of the YCL’s Wales branch

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