First Minister says 'tough times' have led to fall in popularity

First Minister Mark Drakeford addressed his recent fall in popularity, as found by an exclusive ITV Wales/YouGov Barn Cymru poll. Credit: Sharp End

First Minister Mark Drakeford has told ITV Wales "tough times" as people struggle with the cost of living crisis, have contributed to his "falling popularity".

Talking exclusively to Sharp End as he reviewed the past twelve months, he said Labour is "still performing well in Wales" despite a poll showing its vote share has decreased.

It comes just days after an ITV Wales poll found Mr Drakeford's popularity amongst the Welsh public is at an 18-month low, with more than half of respondents thinking he is doing a bad job.

56% of people hold that opinion, whilst just 31% think he is doing a good job.

Addressing the fall in his popularity, Mr Drakeford said: "These are tough times. People feel the impact of a cost of living crisis on top of the other things they've had to deal with in recent years."

  • Mr Drakeford felt optimistic about Labour's lead but felt "hard times" had had an impact on his popularity

The poll also showed Welsh Labour is 22 points ahead of the Welsh Conservatives - something the First Minister said he does not "regard as bad news" - but acknowledged: "I wish support was rising."

Dr Jac Larner from the Wales Governance Centre said both the fact Mr Drakeford is a "figurehead" for the Welsh Government and therefore the face of difficult or controversial decisions, and reduced visibility since the pandemic, have caused a fall in the first minister's popularity.

One of those difficult decisions has been the controversial move to set a 20 miles per hour default speed limit on Welsh roads.

The ITV Wales poll showed the policy is broadly unpopular.

Talking about it, the First Minister said: "The policy is the right policy and when the dust eventually settles I think it will show once again that here is a policy in which Wales has led the way.

"Scotland announced last week they will be doing the same thing. Ireland said earlier in the autumn they are going to introduce it."

  • The introduction of default 20mph speed limits in Wales has been controversial

He added: "The policy itself will save people's lives, will prevent accidents that need not happen. It's a small price to pay, to ask people to drive a little bit more slowly.

"When the dust settles, people will see it was a difficult change to bring about but Wales, with our radical history, is doing the right thing."

Another major issue this year has been the threat of thousands of redundancies at the Tata steel plant in Port Talbot.

It is feared up to 3,000 people could lose their jobs as the company, which is a major employer in the area, looks to modernise the way it works.

Trade unions have put forward proposals trying to save jobs.

It is feared there could be up to 3,000 jobs lost at the Port Talbot steel plant. Credit: PA Images

Addressing Tata directly, Mr Drakeford said: "To start with, I think it is good news that Tata are committing to an electric arc furnace at Port Talbot which, in the longer run, will provide employment and steel-making capacity in that town.

"The focus has to be on the journey from here to there. A head-long rush to close what Port Talbot currently provides is very different from a phased move from current arrangements to that electric arc future.

"We will be talking to Tata, as we do very regularly, urging them to phase this change in a way that can make it manageable for people who have given their lives for steelmaking in Port Talbot - families and generations who have done that.

"They deserve something from the company. They deserve a path to the future which is manageable, rather than a path to the future which heaps all the downside into the very short term."

Mr Drakeford was also asked about budget cuts. Talking about the challenges faced in Wales, he said: "The budget has dominated my life as first minister for the past six months.

"We've had difficulties within the year this year, which I think we've largely managed to deal with."

  • Wales' budget for next year is worth less than originally planned, according to the first minister

Due to inflation, Mr Drakeford said next year's budget will be worth £1.3 billion less than when it was originally set by the UK Government three years ago.

He said: "If you have a budget that is shrinking to that extent, you can't manage it just by tucking a bit here, weaving a bit there. They are more fundamental changes we are having to make.

"They will be difficult. They will impact on people's lives. And they will impact on some services."

However, he said the Welsh Government will try to protect public services such as the Welsh NHS "as much as we can."

He warned demands for higher pay in public services could lead to job losses. The question came following strikes amongst public sector workers across the UK this year, including in Wales.

The First Minister said: "We'll always be willing to sit down with people who work in our public services and to have with them some of those challenging conversations about the amount we pay to any individual and the number of people we are able to employ, because in the end, as trade unions very well know, that is the fundamental calculation."

He added that he wants to see "as many people as possible employed in our public services. If we want to pay some people a lot more, it may mean that we can employ fewer people."

Amongst strikes in Wales, some councils such as the one in Wrexham, have not been collecting bins. Credit: PA Images

With a general election anticipated next year, immigration is set to play a big role as voters make their minds up on who to elect.

The UK Government's Rwanda policy - sending illegal migrants to the east African country as a deterrent to people coming across the Channel in small boats - was recently deemed illegal by the Supreme Court.

MPs are expected to vote on Tuesday on a bill stating Rwanda is a safe country - a key concern from the highest judges in the land.

The First Minister told ITV Wales' Sharp End immigration is needed in Wales to support areas with worker shortages, such as social care. Credit: PA Images

Mr Drakeford, however, said immigration into Wales is needed to cover areas with a shortage of workers, such as social care, and argued it is important to make a "positive case" for people coming from abroad.

However, he said: "You have to do it at a pace to allow the wider society to absorb the number of people who are joining it." But did not give a specific number.

Instead, he said: "I don't think the number is the right place to start. What you have to start with is looking at the need."

He said that need is boosted by a reducing, ageing population.

According to YouGov, the prime minister's popularity has plummeted Credit: PA Images

ITV Wales' poll found almost 70% of people in Wales think the Prime Minister Rishi Sunk is not doing a good job either. Just 19% think he is.

In terms of voting intention in Wales - asking which party people would back in a general election - the Conservatives picked up by just 1%, now holding a fifth of the vote share.

It leaves them trailing Labour by 22%, with support for Sir Keir Starmer's party dropping by 8% in Wales. However, Labour remains the most popular party by a sizeable margin.

Plaid Cymru would be the third largest party sending MPs to Westminster from Wales, while Reform UK, who call for "net zero immigration," were fourth and the Liberal Democrats were fifth.

The Green Party was the sixth most popular UK party in Wales, according to the ITV Wales - YouGov Barn Cymru polling.

Senedd reforms are set to be a hot topic next year. Credit: PA Images

A specific issue for Wales in the next year will be Senedd reform. Following consultation with MSs, the Welsh Government has committed to making the Welsh Parliament gender equal.

There are legal questions over whether politicians in Cardiff Bay have the power to enforce such a change.

Mr Drakeford said he would not bring forward a bill on the issue if he did not think there was an "arguable case" the Senedd could deal with it, but said it was "quite likely that this is the sort of bill which the UK Government might refer to the Supreme Court" because of the differing legal perspectives.

You can see more from the the First Minister on Sharp End on Monday 11 December on ITV 1 at 11:15 pm.

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