How to be Wales' First Minister

  • Our National Correspondent Rob Osborne spoke to First Ministers with experience in the hot seat

Vaughan Gething is due to become Wales' next First Minister, taking the reins from Mark Drakeford after his five-year tenure.

So far, all of Wales' leaders have been men - and from the Labour Party. ITV1's Sharp End spoke to those with experience of the role to find out what advice they have for the next FM.

1) Take our advice

"Listen to people, engage with everybody," said Alun Michael, Wales' inaugural First Secretary (now First Minister).

He added: "Be clear about what you are for - what are your priorities? What are you really there for? Share that as clearly as possible."

Alun Michael resigned as Leader of Welsh Labour and First Secretary after nine months in the role to avoid a vote of no confidence. Credit: Sharp End

"Inspire," is the advice of Carwyn Jones. "Inspire confidence, inspire hope and confidence in your judgement."

The widow of the late Rhodri Morgan, Julie Morgan MS, says not to panic. "Stay calm and do your best. It's a great opportunity."

2) Prepare for questions from experienced backbenchers

Although Mark Drakeford has promised not to be a backseat driver, he has not ruled out being a rebel.

He told Sharp End: "I think the people deserve a short period of silence, as they say, I don't think I'll be dashing to do it straight away but there are two years to go."

The FM who lead Wales through the Covid pandemic and lockdowns is looking forward to taking his seat on the back-benches and to "have a bit of freedom".

Mr Drakeford said: "I'm not planning to be a rebel particularly but I'm looking forward to a chance to say some things that are not as easy to say when you're confined by the responsibilities that you have as First Minister."

Wales' First Minister timeline

1999 - 2000: Alun Michael AM as First Secretary of Wales

2000 - 2009: Rhodri Morgan

2009 - 2018: Carwyn Jones

2018 - 2024: Mark Drakeford

3) It can be lonely but don't isolate yourself

"You have to make sure you don't cut yourself off from people," Carwyn Jones warns. "It's very, very easy to cut yourself off from your own backbenchers - not deliberately but because you never see them.

"You only see them once a week in a meeting and you have to make time to sit in the tea room in the Senedd, talk to people.

"There are lots of aspects of the job that most people wouldn't want to do - there is an element of loneliness there - you are the person taking the decision, but I had a supportive family around me, I was home most nights and living 20 miles away that was really important for me, but it's part of the job and you accept it."

Although Mark Drakeford promises not to be a backseat driver to his successor, he doesn't rule out being a rebel. Credit: Sharp End

Mr Drakeford said: "In the end it is you who carries the can.

"There are moments when, as you walk towards a camera or you walk towards a podium, you think, 'It's me then, I'm going to be doing this' and that can be a bit lonely."

4) Look the part, but don't think you're more important than others

"You have to be your own person," according to Mr Jones.

"Rhodri was a great influence on me, and I always regarded him as a father figure to me in politics, but you have to carve out your own niche. For me it was about inspiring confidence in people."

Carwyn Jones served as First Minister from 2009 to 2018. Credit: Sharp End

He added: "You have to look the part - we can talk about how people shouldn't vote for personalities over policies but it doesn't work that way. If you don't look the part, they won't vote for you - that's important."Julie Morgan described how her late husband Rhodri was "very much against status".

She said: "He felt that if you thought you were important, that's the end for you in politics.

"He felt it was really important that politicians don't think they're important - that they keep in touch with the people.

"Wherever he used to go, people used to come up to him and talk to him and he liked it! He didn't feel it was intrusive at all."

Julie Morgan remembers her late husband, former First Minister Rhodri Morgan. Credit: Sharp End

5) Give others a chance to be in the limelight

Ahead of one of his penultimate FMQs, Mr Drakeford reflected on how difficult it is in Wales to give other people in the Cabinet profile beyond the first minister.

He said: "I remember conversations with Rhodri where he used to say he was very determined, particularly with the women he had in his Cabinet, to find a way for them to become better known to people in Wales.

"But he cast a very long shadow and the job casts a long shadow."

Rhodri Morgan chairs a Cabinet meeting in 2007. Credit: PA Archive

In an ITV Cymru Wales poll, 11% of people thought Vaughan Gething should be the next leader of the Welsh Government, compared to 72% who did not know who should be the next first minister.

"In some ways I'm not surprised," Mr Drakeford said. "I wonder how many people on the Grangetown omnibus can name five members of the UK cabinet.

"Particularly in a modern media world, with the person who is at the head of it all, it's difficult for other people to get the profile for themselves."

6) Know when it's your time to go

"It's best to go before you're pushed" - that is what Rhodri Morgan used to say.

His widow, Julie, said: "(Rhodri) thought it was best to give somebody else a chance and I think he left in a very positive way.

"I think he was looking forward when he actually went to never wear a suit again or a tie. He gave away his dinner suit, he said he never wanted to see an airport again (but he did go back on that!) he didn't like the formal bits of a public figure really and he was looking forward to a time when he could be out in the garden, he could have chickens, he could do all the sorts of things that he loved doing."

Alun Michael's time at the helm lasted only nine months. He said: "When I resigned, I did find it quite a shock and it's actually quite nice to have a period when you can reflect and take a little more time when thinking things through."

When Carwyn Jones became FM in 2009, he told himself he wouldn't do the job for more than 10 years.

He said: "I went on holiday in the summer of 2017 and I knew then that I was beginning to think eight years is a long time in this job. Some people knew, but I announced I was going in April 2018 at the Welsh Labour conference and I did the round of media interviews.

"Afterwards I went to a pub with my team, sat down, and it was as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I knew then that it was the right decision."

  • Will Vaughan Gething take advice from his predecessors? What will he do with the power he wields and how will history remember this next era of Welsh Government?

  • You can see more in-depth coverage of the new First Minister on Monday's Sharp End (March 18). Catch up with the latest episodes here.