“He may not be flashy, he may be a bit nerdy, a bit boring, he's a university professor, but thank God for him” – an unorthodox way perhaps for a minister to describe his boss but those are the words that Lee Waters, the re-elected MS for Llanelli used to describe Mark Drakeford last week.

There are many people in Wales who might agree with him, and last week’s election showed that they’re willing to put their trust in him to take Wales out of the pandemic.

The Mark Drakeford I know is very clever, if that’s what you mean by nerdy. A possessor of two degrees that I know of, he cut his teeth in the world of academia as a well-respected professor before becoming Rhodri Morgan’s chief special adviser in government. It was in this role that I got to know him.

When Mark was elected as an AM in 2011, he quickly became a cabinet minister. I had a rule which I tended to follow that nobody went into the cabinet without having been a deputy minister first but Mark was different. The time he spent as Rhodri’s special adviser meant that he had experience in spades and moving him straight into the cabinet was the obvious thing to do.

As a minister it soon became clear that in cabinet meetings, when Mark spoke people listened because his contributions were well thought-through and persuasive. He’s shown those qualities in the last few months and the people of Wales seem to have appreciated them.

I can put people right on one thing though; Mark is not boring. He’s certainly serious when the occasion calls for it but he’s one of the wittiest people I know.

There’s a story he tells of a meeting when he was finance minister with his equivalents across the UK. It was part of a series of meetings where the UK Government kept on sending different ministers to each meeting who had no idea of what had happened in previous meetings if indeed, they turned up at all.


This tested the patience of everybody else until they reached the end of their tether. I asked Mark what had happened at one of these meetings and he said: “The meeting started and Mike Russell (his Scottish equivalent) expressed his deep displeasure at the UK Government’s discourtesy and was soon joined by Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (Northern Ireland) who banged the table and made allegations of betrayal. Soon we all joined and made clear that we were deeply unhappy and made our views known in no uncertain terms.”

We waited with bated breath for him to continue and he simply said: “And all this happened under item one on the agenda which was “Welcome”.

Mark’s exterior might also mask what I know is a steely determination to get things done. He does not suffer fools gladly and is more than capable of holding his own and winning a feisty debate. He is also well able to take difficult decisions and stick to them even when they might be unpopular at the outset.

It’s an essential quality for a first minister. Like colliery overmen of old, first ministers are not there to be liked necessarily. They’re there to be respected.

When Mark became first minister I remember him saying to me that he wasn’t a great lover of doing TV interviews and debate programmes. This struck me as something he would struggle with, given that those factors are an essential part of the job. How ironic then that the man who didn’t particularly want the limelight and been thrust into it at a level previously unknown for a Welsh first minister.

The result has been there for everyone to see. Mark has presented a calm and rational face to the world. He’s taken a hammering on social media at times but last week shows that it’s votes, not retweets that still count. From the start, he’s fronted up and dealt with all those questions that were thrown at him by the media and in our Parliament.

Now comes the difficult part for any first minister; choosing your team. There are a limited number of places in government and for every person who comes into the government there will be others who will be annoyed at being left out and he will have to balance the need to have close allies and old friends in government against the need bring on younger people to gain the experience that they’ll need to form administrations after he’s gone.

None of that is easy but he starts from a position of strength having won his own mandate at an election. He has said that he will stand down this Senedd term but he has the chance to shape the future of Welsh Labour for years to come and has the luxury of being able to pick the time of his departure, if he so chooses.

That will be far from his mind at the moment, but he might have a quiet word with Lee in the meantime.