Dramatic parliamentary votes are by no means confined to Westminster.

Cast your mind back to the relief on the Welsh Labour front bench when Covid Passes were voted through Y Siambr, as a Tory MS missed an open goal to dent the government’s leadership on a contentious proposal. As the motion passed, Eluned Morgan looked to the First Minister. He couldn’t believe his luck.

Then, this week, came the tied vote for a Wales-specific inquiry into the pandemic. The Presiding Officer was obliged to vote against, although it is an issue that Welsh Labour has deeply misjudged: either to save political face or because they’re naïve about Welsh treatment in a UK-wide investigation. (Probably both.) Elin Jones did her duty and voted as she was supposed to. Another victory for the First Minister.

The National Wales: A difficult few weeks sees Boris Johnson under pressure. Photo: PAA difficult few weeks sees Boris Johnson under pressure. Photo: PA

In spite of symbolic votes in Cardiff, public attention has been elsewhere. While his government’s overdue and much-needed restrictions were passed by the House of Commons, Boris Johnson did so only through support from the opposition benches. In the process, the Prime Minister suffered the biggest and most damaging rebellion of his premiership; in short, 99 of his backbenchers disagreed with their leader on the most fundamental issue of the day. A leadership challenge may indeed be on its way in the new year after North Shropshire fell to the Liberal Democrats. Sleaze, Christmas parties and chaotic governance are no Westminster bubble stories, after all.

The fortunes of the leaders of England and Wales are worlds apart, which is of little surprise once you consider the gulf between Johnson and Drakeford politically. The latter has already made this clear during this year's melodrama between Cardiff Bay and Westminster. The Prime Minister may be “the bottom of the barrel” and “really awful” but there are more substantial differences between both men which explain their position.

The National Wales: Voters hit out at ‘lazy’ Johnson as Tories lose North Shropshire heartland. Photo: PAVoters hit out at ‘lazy’ Johnson as Tories lose North Shropshire heartland. Photo: PA

They are not opposites solely in the traditional sense of class and values, though that is worth noting: the public personas of the Carmarthen-born grammar schoolboy with a background in social policy, compared to the Etonian scholar who built a reputation as a headline-grabbing journalist and columnist, has been obvious throughout the pandemic. Most important, though, is that Drakeford and Johnson represent different things to their own parties.

The Prime Minister has no base in the Conservative party. He was, and always has been, a blank and useful canvas to carry campaigning issues from levelling-up to Brexit. When the libertarian former Mayor of London had various internal factions – led by the Tory group of aspiring epidemiologists hellbent on ‘freedom’ – voting against public health measures, his authority was dented. As his winning credentials were damaged with the result in Leave-voting North Shropshire, his appeal to MPs started to wane as well. It is a potentially destructive combination that may mean more letters are sent to the 1922 Committee in the days ahead.

In Wales, there are few questions of who is in charge. Mark Drakeford has won an election, which helps, but so has Johnson. The difference is obvious: that the First Minister’s grip over Welsh Labour is deeper and meaningful. It has been formed proactively over twenty years, first as a special advisor and then as a minister, culminating in a commanding premiership that looks different in tone and substance on public services, the constitutional question, and cross-party collaboration than his predecessors.

The confidence grassroots and Senedd members have in Mark Drakeford is regularly reaffirmed; not by the cadres of social media, but by voting through measures such as the Co-Operation Agreement, for instance. It has been said before that Drakeford is a natural disciple of Welsh Labour tradition, cut from the same cloth as Rhodri Morgan but also taking inspiration from historical figures such as Jim Griffiths and Nye Bevan.

It is difficult to think of another Welsh Labour figure who espouses the party’s core ideas of left-of-centre policymaking, appreciation of the language, the value of a redistributive economy but also emphasising a distinctive Wales. That not only appeals to a base or faction: it is the essence of Welsh Labour.

Call that simplistic, but how else should we explain how secure the First Minister is among his members, the parliamentary party and in the eyes of the public? New curbs on hospitality and business over Christmas will not be universally popular, but consistently Drakeford has retained national confidence throughout the crisis. Nicola Sturgeon has done so too. But even the Scottish First Minister finds herself in a curious position: damaged by the Salmond affair, and unable to answer key questions about her main policy of independence, her departure date is firmly tied to a referendum which she may not be granted.

The National Wales: The Welsh Government has entered into a co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru. Photo: Huw Evans Picture AgencyThe Welsh Government has entered into a co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru. Photo: Huw Evans Picture Agency

Drakeford, by contrast, will leave office on his own terms in 2024. There are certainly challenges ahead. The implementation of his policies developed in a quasi-coalition with Adam Price will be most closely observed, in what the Welsh Labour leader has used as a gateway to secure his legacy by the time he steps down from the political front line. We can expect Plaid Cymru to continue challenging the government on the delivery of these policies and other issues, but it does ensure that across 46 areas Drakeford can be relatively confident over his command on Senedd business.

Factors outside of his control, such as constitutional developments elsewhere, will be manageable for the First Minister. Unlike Sturgeon, whose political reality is defined by an independent Scotland, Drakeford has the privilege of being the leader of a country and a party that ‘will wait and see’. Dafydd Iwan caused some ructions this week when he said joining an independent Welsh Labour party would not be entirely out of the question, if necessary. Though unlikely, if the political reality called for such a breakaway, I have little doubt Drakeford or his successor might make that decision, swallowing Plaid Cymru up in the process. A merger between both parties, as I put to Adam Price recently, may seem fanciful at this stage but is no impossibility if the circumstances allow for it.

The hypotheticals have plenty of time to play out. Right now, we should acknowledge this has been Mark Drakeford’s year, again. As Johnson scrambles to secure his premiership in 2022, the First Minister is comfortable knowing he has few rebels lurking behind him. And what a moment to mark his dominance as we approach a centenary of Labour victories in Wales, after the party has triumphed in another Senedd election following a convincing (yet flawed) performance during Covid-19.

The National Wales: How much longer will Boris Johnson's premiership last? Photo: PAHow much longer will Boris Johnson's premiership last? Photo: PA

Few things are certain in politics, and predictions are too often driven by hyperbole. But we can conclude with some certainty that Mark Drakeford will be in charge of Wales this time next year.

The same cannot be said of England's Johnson. 

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