IWA Analysis: Shared visions – different lenses: The campaign to become First Minister

The Welsh Labour Leadership race is underway but candidates' manifestos don't present stark differences so much as varying approaches to a similar set of issues. The image represents the inside of the Senedd.

Joe Rossiter examines both Welsh Labour leadership candidates’ manifestos and finds they align in their visions, but diverge on the paths to achieve them.

The two candidates to become the next Welsh Labour leader and First Minister Jeremy Miles and Vaughan Gething have set out their visions for the future of Wales.

Their manifestos include a number of shared values and ambitions – policy distinctions appearing to be on the how of tackling challenges rather than any disparity on what those challenges are. Likewise, both visions speak of shared priorities; unlocking the economic opportunities of the green economy, a health service delivering better outcomes, a more comprehensive housing offer and enhanced devolution among them.

Perhaps this is the consequence of the challenges and opportunities for Wales appearing so starkly clear at the moment. Budgetary pressures across the public sector have led to a spiralling set of issues across health, education, transport amidst a climate and nature crisis amongst others. The next First Minister will certainly face an intimidating in-tray. Perhaps it’s also reflective of two candidates who have both held senior government posts and who are from the party which is the most electorally successful in the world, making the candidates’ case for change a delicate balancing act.

Distinctiveness from this campaign then, comes not just from subtle policy distinctions, but from the personality and the manner through which the candidates intend to lead, and the tools they put in place to govern effectively. The how and the why come into starker focus.

Indeed, each candidate sets out commitments which are in line with the broad vision outlined in the Gordon Brown report on the future of the UK. Whether this is sufficiently radical following the picture put forward by the Independent Commission is an open question.

With no less than five of our recent areas of policy research and recommendations present in both candidates’ manifestos, it is clear that the IWA’s recent work has contributed to shaping their platforms,  especially on efforts to create a successful, green and fair economy and a healthy, confident and inclusive democracy.

I’m going to look at a few key policy areas highlighted in both candidates’ manifestos and seek to clarify clear areas of deviation and similarity. 

Democratic and constitutional reform

Both candidates offer to take forward the work of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales and the pathway for reform set out in the Co-operation Agreement with Plaid Cymru. 

Both candidates support the devolution of the Crown Estates, of justice and policing and of gaining prudential borrowing powers. Miles also proposes to devolve the administration of benefits and to press for the reform of the Sewel Convention (the Senedd having to consent to UK Government acting in areas of devolved competency). Both then, are clear that they will call for devolving further powers to Wales and for advocating for stronger powers for the Senedd and Welsh Government.

Both responses also appear to be reflective of what the wider UK Labour Party would deem acceptable proposals. Indeed, each candidate sets out commitments which are in line with the broad vision outlined in the Gordon Brown report on the future of the UK. Whether this is sufficiently radical following the picture put forward by the Independent Commission is an open question.

Beyond the low-hanging fruit put forward by the Brown Commission, what the longer term vision for Wales’ future under both candidates is less clear. The case for the above changes is well established by the Independent Commission. But there is no answer from the candidates to the broader challenges of an eroding constitutional settlement. The strains in the devolution settlement may become less apparent were the governing parties to align in Westminster and Cardiff Bay, but the structural inadequacies will remain. Addressing this power imbalance is an issue that will not go away.

The direction of travel then, for both candidates, is clear: enhanced devolution. But the final destination is less so. Outgoing First Minister Mark Drakeford has hinted that a Federalism model would work in the best interests of Wales and the rest of the UK in the long term. Perhaps that sense of clarity will emerge.

Both candidates also highlight how they would devolve power not just to Wales but also within it. For Miles this means ‘devolving powers down to every part of Wales’ and protecting local authority budgets. For Gething, this means establishing a Minister for North Wales and further devolving powers and funding to local government. There is clearly some work to be done to rebalance power within Wales, and the regional economic development approach as part of the establishment of Corporate Joint Committee’s will also play a part in consolidating funding, planning and powers.

Discussion on constitutional reform are accompanied by more immediate concerns of democratic reform. With widespread Senedd reform, there appears a reluctance to tackle some of the insufficiencies of what is proposed. With a number of organisations, including the IWA, criticising elements of the reform package, not least the closed list system proposed, grasping the nettle and owning this reform agenda is critically important. Voters will need to be brought on side for Senedd expansion and electoral reform. Without a clear sell to voters on the need for investment in our democratic institutions, these changes may act to disengage rather than re-engage people with the political process. Giving a clear line on this issue is more important than the attention given to a reassessment of the 20mph policy.

Miles has highlighted his ambition to complete the Senedd reform proposals journey through the Senedd in time for the 2026 election, whilst Gething’s manifesto is silent on the issue.

Considering these reforms represent a substantial shake-up in how the Welsh Parliament is elected, it is curious that these issues haven’t received more attention. That these reforms could offer to transform Wales’ democracy yet receive little attention suggests a lack of engagement on the issue and a lack of prioritisation on Wales’ democratic malaise. Wales’ democracy is facing a number of challenges that require the attention of the next First Minister, with the Senedd reform proposals but one tool in the toolbox to fix. We need more focus and attention on devising a way forward.

The Green Economy

The IWA are glad to see both candidates recognising that the green economy is the economic opportunity for delivering sustainable and equitable growth. The IWA has been making the case for not only renewables but the wider net zero transition as an economic opportunity beyond our Re-energising Wales series of papers.

With equivocation on the scale of the commitment to green economic investment from the UK party, Welsh Government will be fighting for a smaller investment package when it comes to driving the net zero mission. This makes smarter policy and doing more with less funding the order of the day.

Both candidates have pledged to seek prudential borrowing powers for Wales in order to unleash the level of investment to turbocharge net zero infrastructure spending. The IWA has been at the forefront of calling for such powers, which was a key recommendation in our Fiscal Firepower report. Yet, a shared vision across the UK for the scale of public investment and the direction of travel on net zero across devolved and reserved powers will be vital in providing the conditions for further private sector investment, as well as accelerating the scale of change required across our economy.

However, it is positive that both candidates have a plan for green economic development. Gething proposes taking an ‘active green industrial policy’ which is sorely needed to guide private sector investment, whilst creating Clean Growth Hubs. Miles places green energy at the heart of his economic mission, promising a ‘green economy stimulus’ which re-targets public sector spending to tackle climate change and creating green jobs.

Fair Work

Both candidates place labour relations at the heart of their economic vision. Each candidate takes forward proposals put forward in the IWA’s Beyond Social Partnership report on strengthening trade unions in the interests of low-and-middle income workers.

Gething proposes a new Fair Work Fund Gwaith Teg to support fair working practices. Whilst Miles puts forward a Union Reach Fund, with the aim of raising collective bargaining rates and union density.

There are then numerous areas of overlap in the policies offered by Gething and Miles. Their visions for Wales are to a certain extent ones that are shared. The means to deliver this vision are, however, divergent.

Both candidates also clearly take Wales further down the social partnership pathway, with key roles to play for trade unions in the endeavour to improve living standards across Wales.

The IWA’s report clearly articulates the role trade unions and a social partnership approach can play in reinvigorating and rebalancing Wales’ economy. Improved incomes, a ‘flatter’ economy, fairer working conditions and tackling precarious employment are all best achieved through strengthened trade union density and collective bargaining coverage. We are therefore glad to see this approach taken forward by both candidates.

Shared priorities – differing approaches

There are then numerous areas of overlap in the policies offered by Gething and Miles. Their visions for Wales are to a certain extent ones that are shared. The means to deliver this vision are, however, divergent.

I’m looking forward to hearing more about how the candidates aim to reinvigorate Wales over the next month as well as the challenges put forward by the other parties in Wales. Collectively raising Wales’ ambitions requires collective endeavour and critique.

It’s important to say that whilst there are many policy areas to dig into in this campaign, I’ve chosen to focus on those that overlap with the IWA’s current workstreams, on the economy and on democracy. 

Beyond that, the IWA have clearly been influential to the candidates, displaying once again the contribution of organisations capable of incubating bright new policy ideas in Wales to public policy discourse in our nation. We will continue our influential policy and research work, which raises Wales’ ambition and can be taken forward by any political party.

You can read Jeremy Miles’ manifesto here and Vaughan Gething’s here.

All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer. If you want to support our work tackling Wales’ key challenges, consider becoming a member.


Joe Rossiter is the IWA's Co-Director, responsible for the organisation's policy and external affairs.

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