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13 December 2018

Mark Drakeford’s new Welsh Labour government is a shift from Carwyn Jones, but not to the left

Meet the new boss, not quite the same as the old boss.

By Stephen Bush

Newly-installed Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has formed his first Cabinet since his election as leader of the Welsh Labour party.

It’s being widely covered as a “lurch to the left”, with much attention being given to the removal of Alun Davies, Carwyn Jones’ close ally, from his role as Jones’ representative on Labour’s ruling national executive committee and the sacking of Huw Irranca-Davies from his Cabinet post. But the reality is that, from a left-right perspective, anyone with any degree of familiarity with Welsh politics will note that this is more continuity than change.

Ken Skates, seen as a rising hope of the right of the party, and an early backer of Drakeford, is rewarded with the retention of his old job at economy. Bluntly, unless the word “Corbynite” has any meaning beyond “is a member of the Labour party” it cannot be applied to a reshuffle which ends with Skates in such a crucial role.

In place in the crucial role of the Welsh government’s Brexit lead is Jeremy Miles, again a politician closely linked to many of the structures of organised Corbynscepticism. Keeping her place at Education is Kirsty Williams, who is literally a Liberal Democrat. (Her survival was already guaranteed yesterday after talks between the Welsh Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, and Drakeford revealed his preference for coalition government in an interview with the New Statesman earlier this week.)

Broadly this looks to be a government pursuing a broadly similar set of policies. The protection of a package of poverty-easing measures that Drakeford has referred to as “the social wage” and an attempt to expand and broaden Wales’ tax base: a vital task if the Welsh Parliament is to be able to escape its reliance on a block grant from a government in Westminster that is, for the moment at least, politically at odds with it.

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There, is, however, a crucial and significant shift in one area: transport. The Welsh government has been at odds with environmentalists over its plans to build a bypass over the Gwent levels, an area of rare biodiversity. In Lee Waters, the new transport minister, Drakeford has appointed someone publicly opposed to the bypass, who has talked of the need for more to be done to hit renewables targets and is in general regarded as seriously green.

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It is there, in environmental policy, that the real change between the eras of Drakeford and Jones looks likely to be found.