Welsh Labour Leadership Election 2024

On 13 December 2023, First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, announced that he would stand down as leader of Welsh Labour and First Minister before Easter 2024. The announcement, whilst surprising, was not unexpected. For years the First Minister had maintained that he would step down before the end of the Senedd’s current session in May 2026, and in recent months, there had been hints that an announcement would be forthcoming.

The decision will, however, have serious implications for the future strategic direction of Welsh Government, especially given the influence that Drakeford’s successor might be able to wield if, following the general election, Labour forms a government at Westminster for the first time since 2010.

At a time of economic turbulence and global insecurities, and major shifts in key domestic policy areas, the next First Minister will be inheriting an inbox of difficult decisions, as they seek to craft their own policy platform.

In this blog, T4/7 sets out the context and likely implications of the Welsh Labour leadership contest and considers what priorities the next First Minister might pursue ahead of the 2026 Senedd election.


The contest to elect a new leader of Welsh Labour is a multifaceted process which includes both party members and affiliated organisations. The first stage of nominations, in December 2023, was restricted to Members of the Senedd (MSs), with successful candidates required to secure the support of at least six (20%) Labour MSs, including themselves. Both Vaughan Gething and Jeremy Miles advanced to the second stage, with 11 and 17 supporters, respectively.

The second stage of nominations, held in January 2024, opened the contest to nominations from local Labour parties and affiliated organisations, such as trade unions. Jeremy Miles received 15 nominations from Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) and Vaughan Gething received 14; in the case of affiliated unions and bodies, Miles received 10 nominations to Gething’s 9.

Following the confirmation of Gething and Miles as the final candidates, voting commenced in mid-February and will run until 14 March, operating on a one-member-one-vote basis. Although Welsh Labour do not provide insight into exact membership numbers, it is thought there are an estimated 16,000 eligible members and around 100,000 with an affiliate vote.[1] The winner will be announced on 16 March and duly appointed as First Minister a few days later.

Opinion polling on the leadership race has been sparse, however, a poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies at the end of January does provide some insight.[2] From a pool of 1,100 voters, all respondents were asked to select their preferred candidate; 27% opted for Gething and 10% selected Miles, whilst a further 24% said someone else and 40% said don’t know. The sample was then restricted to those respondents who had voted Labour in the 2021 Senedd election; of these, 39% backed Gething and 11% supported Miles, whilst 15% said someone else and 35% said don’t know. The significant quantum of undecided voters, and the absence of consistent polling, makes the final outcome far from certain.

The Candidates
Vaughan Gething

Born to a Welsh father from Ogmore-by-sea and a Zambian mother, Gething spent his early years in Zambia before moving to Dorset at the age of two and later South Wales. Describing himself as a ‘family man’, Gething resides in Penarth with his family. Gething is an avid sports fan, regularly tuning into rugby and football matches. His main sporting passion is cricket, calling himself a ‘mostly’ retired cricketer.

Having joined the Labour Party at the age of 17, Gething initially engaging in political activism during the 1992 UK General Election. Although unsuccessful in the inaugural election to the National Assembly for Wales in 1999, he later represented Butetown ward on Cardiff City Council from 2001 to 2008.

A committed trade unionist, Gething is a member of GMB, Unison, and Unite. In 2008, he became the youngest president of the Wales Trade Union Congress at the age of 34 and is also a former president of the Welsh branch of the National Union of Students. Professionally, he trained as a solicitor in Cardiff and later became a partner at the trade union solicitor Thompsons.

First elected as the Member of the Senedd for Cardiff South and Penarth in May 2011, from 2016 to 2021 he served as the Minister for Health and Social Services, subsequently transitioning to the role of Minister for the Economy after his re-election in 2021. Gething gained national recognition during the COVID-19 pandemic for delivering daily coronavirus briefings, making him a familiar national figure.

Gething holds a unique position as the sole Black member of the Senedd, and if elected First Minister, would become the first Black national leader in the UK, and indeed, Europe.

Vaughan Gething Manifesto

Vaughan Gething’s manifesto promises ‘a future where everyone, no matter their background or what they look like, has the opportunity to succeed’.[3]

Gething sets out the following five themes, highlighting the key commitments he would deliver if elected First Minister:

  • For a healthy nation: Commitment to an NHS remaining in public hands, expanding NHS services through innovation in healthcare technology, alongside improvements to health and social care and mental health provision.
  • For green prosperity: Green job creation to ensure that a move to net zero also benefits the prosperity of the community, committing to never transfer steel provision overseas. Introduction of a new Nature Positive Bill alongside sustainable farming practices to promote sustainable farming and self-sufficiency.
  • For a place to call home: Prioritising the building of more social housing and reducing homelessness. Bus travel would be regulated, and public transport more generally would become better-integrated through enfranchisement. Gething also advocates for further devolvement to local governments as well as increased resources.
  • For ambitious futures: Reinvestment in apprenticeships after the loss of EU funding, reviewing the list of Essential Skills in Wales. Further commitments to exploring expansion of childcare provision and improvements to education.
  • For a stronger Wales: Promoting an anti-racist Wales, upholding values of equality and higher standards in public bodies, as well as tackling child poverty. Following the Brown Report, Gething supports the introduction of further devolution on justice and policing.

On sustainability and reaching net zero, much of Gething’s manifesto reflects his work as Economy Minister, committing to furthering green jobs and ensuring that workers are not left behind by Wales’s green energy transition. On this, Gething outlines that ‘achieving climate justice and social justice would be our twin economic missions’. Gething wants Wales to be at the forefront of the “Green Industrial Revolution,” in the way it once led the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom. Private sector development is seen as integral to reaching Wales’ net zero goals, with Gething stating:

‘A vibrant private sector is essential to meeting my twin economic commissions, and our government would support Welsh businesses and Welsh workers to adapt to, and thrive in, the transition to net zero, ensuring that workers are the priority during this process.’

Gething argues that the UK Government has failed to strengthen Wales’s electric grid connection and continued that homegrown energy should be used to support those living in Wales only. He states: ‘Our government would harness our natural assets like wind a tidal power, while delivering nature protection. We would ensure renewable energy generated here benefits people in Wales.’

Jeremy Miles

Jeremy Miles was born and raised in Pontarddulais, near Swansea, and educated at a bilingual comprehensive school, before studying law at the University of Oxford. Miles later practiced as a solicitor in London before holding senior legal and commercial positions in media sector businesses, including ITV and NBC Universal. Miles stood to become Labour candidate in the Westminster seat of Beaconsfield in the 2010 general election, and later Aberavon in 2014, proving unsuccessful in both endeavours. Miles then returned to South Wales, where he set up his own business affairs consultancy. He is a Co-Operative Party politician and a member of the GMB, Unison, and Unite trade unions.

Miles was first elected to the Senedd at the 2016 National Assembly election as the constituency MS for Neath. He served as Counsel General for Wales from 2017 to 2021 and as Minister for European Transition from 2018 to 2021. Since May 2021, Miles has held the office of Minister for Education and Welsh Language.

Outside of politics, Miles lists his hobbies as reading, cooking, hiking, cycling, film, and following local rugby. If elected First Minister, Miles would become the first gay national leader in the UK.

Jeremy Miles Manifesto

Jeremy Miles’ manifesto sets out a vision for ‘a country of free and universal healthcare, lifelong learning and cultural institutions; a country which believes that tackling the climate and nature emergencies must be at the centre of everything we do.’[4]

The manifesto sets out six key pledges for a Miles-led government:

  • A green economy stimulus: Targeting of all Welsh Government capital and procurement spending, alongside new funding models in partnership with local government, to create quality, sustainable jobs and tackle climate change.
  • Investment in education: To increase the percentage of the Welsh Government budget spent on schools as an investment in social justice.
  • Cut NHS waiting lists: Establishment of dedicated orthopaedic centres for knee and hip replacements to clear backlogs.
  • Decent housing: Expansion of cooperative housing to tackle barriers to providing social homes.
  • Fairer fares and better transport: Creation of simpler, fairer bus fares to encourage travel whilst work takes place to re-regulate the bus network.
  • A stronger voice for the people of Wales: To strengthen the Senedd, devolve power within Wales, and secure a fairer deal for Wales in partnership with a UK Labour Government.

The core of Miles’ manifesto is a commitment to the foundational economy and support for sustainable growth and decent jobs in the industrial and technical sectors of the future. On the green transition, the manifesto states:

Renewable energy will be at the heart of our economic policy, with a commitment to growing our share of the marine and onshore renewables sector, supported by a skills and business support policy which recognises the economic and employment potential this sector brings to this and future generations.’

Economic priorities for a Miles-led government would include:

  • Realignment of capital investment and procurement spend into a Good Green Growth economic stimulus package;
  • Negotiation of joint funding partnerships with local government;
  • Support for businesses to navigate the regulatory environment, and the growth of planning capacity across Wales to speed up decision-making.

Miles also confirmed that tackling the climate and nature emergencies would remain fundamental to Welsh Government under his leadership, stressing the need to ensure that the costs and benefits of a just transition are distributed equitably. Referencing Wales’ heritage as an engine for global energy, the manifesto states that the comparative advantage of Wales’ geography will allow it to power the future, with government support for the marine economy and the deployment of hydro, tidal and wave energy, as well as offshore and floating wind. Similarly, to retain public support for net zero, Miles confirmed that his administration would expand benefits to communities which hosted renewable energy infrastructure, whilst simultaneously emphasising the importance of accessible green spaces and the need to make housing greener through optimised refit programmes.

Miles likewise emphasised his commitment to tackling the nature emergency, with the implementation of the COP15 target to protect 30% of land and water by 2030. This would include the passage of legislation which would embed environmental principles into Welsh law and establish a new biodiversity targets framework.

Environmental priorities for a Miles-led government would include:

  • Maintenance of the ban on fossil fuel extraction and fracking in Wales and support for the divestment of public pension funds from investments in said sectors;
  • Introduction of a statutory target to reverse the decline in biodiversity;
  • Expansion of peatland restoration and seagrass restoration projects;
  • Implementation of the current and next carbon budgets;
  • Extension of community shareholding in renewable energy projects;
  • Engagement with the work of the net zero 2035 climate challenge group.

On housing, the manifesto emphasised the need to provide good-quality housing in well-connected, local communities as a basic right in modern life. Miles confirmed that his administration would deliver 20,000 homes for rent in the social sector, removing barriers by increasing local planning capacity and allowing pre-approved building designs on land allocated for housing.


The race to elect the next First Minister of Wales marks an important moment in the history of Welsh devolution. Exactly a quarter century since its inaugural session, the Senedd is now at work considering numerous bills aimed at modernising and expanding the structures of government for the next 25 years, from the size and electoral system of the Senedd to the introduction of a new centralised infrastructure consenting regime. Elsewhere, as the general election looms ever closer, Cardiff Bay is presented with the prospect of working alongside a UK Labour government for the first time since 2010; a possible catalyst for the further devolution of decision-making responsibilities.

Despite its significance, the leadership election is not expected to be overtly contentious, with both candidates seemingly aware of the need to avoid divisive arguments in the lead-up to a general election; one which will almost certainly put the record of Welsh Labour in the firing line of the national Conservative Party. Another reason for a more harmonious contest is the nature of devolved government – the Senedd is currently the smallest chamber in the UK, necessitating conciliatory working arrangements and intra-party unity – as well as the simple fact that both candidates largely share the same political platform – both back investment in the green economy and net zero, prioritise initiatives to alleviate NHS pressures, wish to see spending in education and skills, and support the construction of social housing. Both men have also managed to avoid the political pitfalls which have bedevilled previous Labour leadership contests, championing the historic Welsh Labour tradition as opposed to the Blairite, Brownite, and Corbynite factionalism which has plagued previous contests.

On net zero, planning reform, and housing, both candidates have adopted a seemingly pro-growth agenda, with pledges to accelerate green investment, build more social housing, and support the deployment of offshore renewable energy. This approach is largely in alignment with the ‘decade of national renewal’ rhetoric and policy portfolio advanced by Keir Starmer nationally, indicating a potential renewal in the synergy between Welsh and UK Labour as the prospect of a Labour-controlled Westminster government becomes an ever more tangible reality. Whether words will match political action remains to be seen.

Finally, the next First Minister will inherit a series of short-term and long-term political challenges that will test their authority and ability to enact meaningful change. In the short-term, the new leader will face a general election by the end of the year, one where Welsh Labour are expected to win an overwhelming majority of Welsh seats – if this expectation falls short, authority risks being undermined, particularly as the party looks ahead to the Senedd election in May 2026. In a similar vein, the Cooperation Agreement agreed with Plaid Cymru in 2021 expires at the end of 2024, placing an enhanced premium on the ability of the new leader to manage intra-party unity within a minority government. Although it is likely that Plaid will continue to support legislation currently before the Senedd which derives from the Agreement, this cannot be guaranteed and will necessitate a cautious and collaborative leadership approach.

In the longer-term, the future of the UK’s constitutional settlement and extent of devolution will likely remain central to Welsh political discourse, particularly given the recent report by the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales which set out a roadmap for greater devolution. The new leader will likewise oversee the introduction of a new electoral system and planning regime for Wales, which will, collectively, bring about fundamental change in Welsh governance.

At a time of significant change and uncertainty, both domestically and internationally, the 2024 Welsh Labour leadership election heralds the potential beginning of a new era for Welsh politics. As the then Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis-Thomas, stated in 2007: ‘We are moving into a new era, with new powers, and we have a wonderful opportunity to attempt to take the constitution of Wales forward in a new stage of devolution.[5] Whether it will be Vaughan Gething, or Jeremy Miles, to take Wales forward into this new era remains to be seen.

[1] BBC News, Welsh Labour ballot opens to choose next first minister, 16 February 2024, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-68306647

[2] Redfield & Wilton Strategies, Latest Welsh Westminster, Senedd & Independence Referendum Voting Intention (24-26 January 2024), Mark Drakeford’s Desired Replacement, 30 January 2024, https://redfieldandwiltonstrategies.com/latest-welsh-westminster-senedd-independence-referendum-voting-intention-24-26-january-2024/

[3] Vaughan Gething: For Wales, For Labour, For you, The Welsh Labour Leadership Manifesto, February 2024 https://www.vaughanforleader.cymru/manifesto.

[4] Jeremy Miles: For Wales’ Future. Our mission for Wales’ future, February 2024, https://www.jeremymiles.wales/wp-content/themes/JMilesBlueStag/manifesto/JeremyMiles-Manifesto-Digital-English.pdf

[5] Welsh Parliament, Twenty quotes to mark twenty years since Wales said yes, 18 September 2017, https://senedd.wales/senedd-now/senedd-blog/twenty-quotes-to-mark-twenty-years-since-wales-said-yes/