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First Minister to ‘watch a proper game of cricket’ after standing down

Mark Drakeford is hoping he can watch an entire match of cricket now that he is standing down as First Minister.

Mr Drakeford, who has led the Welsh government for the last five years, will leave the role next Wednesday.

While he will no longer be leading the country, he will still be representing the people of Cardiff West in the Senedd, which he said will be his “full-time job”.

Speaking to the PA news agency, he said: “I’m looking forward to having more scope to spend time on local and constituency matters.

“But also, I do look forward to being able to do some more ordinary things – to watch a proper game of cricket rather than T20 cricket which is all I’ve ever been able to watch in the last few years, to spend more time on the allotment and to have more time for family and more time outdoors.

“A great frustration with these sorts of jobs is you spend an awful lot of your time staring out of the window, you never feel the wind on your face or the air around you.”

Mr Drakeford, who was born in Carmarthen, has been a member of the Senedd since 2011 and served in the health and finances minister roles before taking over from Carwyn Jones as the Labour leader in 2018.

Before taking up an elected position he worked as a special adviser on health and social policy to Rhodri Morgan, a former first minister.

Speaking about his time in office, he said: “What I’ve tried to do is to use the time that I have been First Minister, to tackle the difficult issues and to make the challenging decisions, rather than to do the easy things or simply to keep turning the handle on the machinery of government.”

He said FMs do not get long to do the job and they should “try to do the difficult, ambitious and radical things”, highlighting the cancelling of the M4 relief road as one of his early big decisions.

He added: “The easy decision would have been to say yes, the conventional decision would have been to say yes, most of the powerful interests in Wales were lined up in favour of doing it.

“The challenging thing to do was to say no to it.

“I felt that was the decision for the long-term interests of Wales was not to implement a solution that belonged to the past rather than our future.”

Asked if Wales was in a stronger position now than when he took over five years ago, he said the country continues to face challenges, but he hoped decisions he had made put Wales in a better position for the future.

He said the country has “challenges to the foundations of our nation” including a decade of austerity, which has weakened public services and prevented investment in them.

“There’s ground to make up there with, I hope, the incoming Labour government (in Westminster),” he said.

“The damage of Brexit is long-lasting, our economy is 5% smaller than it otherwise would have been, that’s thousands of pounds in the pockets of every family in Wales.

“And the aftermath of Covid is not over, we are still seeing it in the catch-up in the education of children, in the health service and so on.

“I do hope that in other instances, particularly in relation to climate change, the decisions we made in the last five years are decisions really made with our eye on that long-term benefit of future generations.

“In that sense, we have a stronger nation.”

Mr Drakeford has been variously described as a “dictator” by opponents and as “bampi (grandfather) Wales” by his supporters, but he insisted he had always been “opposed to hierarchies”.

He said: “I think all organisations do better when they capture the contributions of all the people who work in them.

“And your job as First Minister here is to try and create a culture where that’s possible.”

He said during the “darkest days of Covid” his cabinet met five days a week, and he opened it to all ministers, with the aim of opening decision-making up to more members.

Describing Labour’s chances as the next general election, Mr Drakeford said he was “optimistic,” believing the public has already made up their minds not to give the Conservatives another chance.

“Wales is a Labour country, for over 100 years Labour has won elections here,” he said.

“I try to do my best to work as hard as I can to make sure we earn every vote that comes our way and the next general election campaign will be a chance to do exactly that.”

Mr Drakeford said part of the reason he decided to stand down when he did was to allow any successor to have two years before the next Senedd elections and to get them prepared.

Labour has held the Senedd since power was devolved 25 years ago, which Mr Drakeford said meant the “hill does get a bit steeper every time” and people question, “why you again”?

While he accepted that was a long time to be in power, he said: “It’s extraordinary, isn’t it?

“Sometimes my opponents on the floor of the Senedd say ‘oh, 25 years’ as though Labour’s won it in a raffle or something, just a matter of chance or luck.

“Labour is in power in Wales because at successive elections we have persuaded our fellow citizens to support the continuation of a Labour government and that is a huge privilege.

“A privilege you have to make and remake every time by explaining what more you would do.”

The outgoing First Minister said he had one major regret from his time in office – his failure to get through a public health bill in 2016 which would have regulated e-cigarettes in Wales.

The policy was similar to one now put forward by the Conservatives in Westminster, with the aim of stopping e-cigarettes being promoted to children and young people.

“Now, all political parties are talking about the need to do something about that,” he said.

“We could have done it nearly a decade earlier here in Wales, we could have protected those young people whose lives have since been affected by those products.

“We could have demonstrated, as we have in so many other areas, that Wales was a progressive country at the cutting edge of these things.

“That’s the failure that I regret the most.”