The Corbyn crony who plunged Wales into lockdown: First Minister Mark Drakeford backs ‘radical socialist traditions’ and thinks it’s ‘fantastic’ to destroy English road signs
- Mark Drakeford promised to follow ‘radical socialist traditions’ upon his election
- First Minister also backed Jeremy Corbyn’s bid for Labour leadership in 2015
- He also said he thought trashing road signs was a ‘fantastic thing to be doing’
The man responsible for plunging Wales into a 17-day lockdown is an atheist, a republican – and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, a keen player of the ukulele.
But then, First Minister Mark Drakeford is not your typical politician.
He promised to follow ‘radical socialist traditions’ when he was elected Welsh Labour leader in 2018 and, as a long-time supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, backed his bid for the Labour leadership in 2015.
At the time, he said Mr Corbyn was the candidate ‘whose views most closely reflect my own’.
But the similarities don’t end there, as Mr Drakeford, 66, also shares the ex-Labour leader’s passion for allotments.
First Minister Mark Drakeford with former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in Barry, South Wales, in 2019
One of his key campaign pledges in the Welsh Labour Party leadership contest was to double the number of plots across Wales.
During the March lockdown, Mr Drakeford cycled to his allotment in Cardiff, joking that he had to ‘dig very fast’ because of the one-hour exercise restriction. He once boasted he was the only Welsh politician to have milked a cow.
He was born and brought up in Carmarthenshire. As a boy, he developed a love for cricket and learned to play the clarinet and ukulele.
Patriotic Welsh fervour swept his home town when Gwynfor Evans was elected as nationalist Plaid Cymru’s first MP in 1966.
Having attended an all-boys grammar school, Mr Drakeford later recalled groups of pupils marching around chanting political slogans, with English-only road signs, torn down the night before, piled on the ground.
In an interview with the BBC last year, Mr Drakeford said he thought trashing road signs was a ‘fantastic thing to be doing’. He later decided that class was more important than nationality, and he became a socialist and joined the Labour Party.
In the final year of his Latin degree at the University of Kent in Canterbury, he answered an advert in The Guardian to become a probation officer.
After becoming disillusioned with the substandard council houses the offenders he encountered lived in, he moved into politics.
At the same time, he lectured on social policy at Cardiff University, keeping his academic post until his appointment as a Welsh Government minister in 2013.
He promised to follow ‘radical socialist traditions’ when he was elected Welsh Labour leader in 2018
Mr Drakeford, who coined the phrase ‘clear red water’ to represent the different direction Welsh Labour took to the Tony Blair government of the time, served as an adviser to former First Minister Rhodri Morgan, later claiming that he wanted to remain ‘out of the public eye as much as possible’.
However, that ambition didn’t last long and he became the first candidate to throw his hat in the ring after the resignation in 2018 of Carwyn Jones, his predecessor as First Minister.
During his leadership bid, he admitted taking illegal drugs at university, but insisted it was nothing stronger than cannabis. He also revealed that he did not support the monarchy, having become a republican at 14.
Mr Drakeford won the support of the Corbynista pressure group Momentum, which campaigned on his behalf. He also defended the Welsh NHS when it was criticised for its performance by the then premier David Cameron.
Mr Drakeford, who has three children, revealed in July that he he had spent part of lockdown living in a ‘miniature hut’ at the bottom of his garden to protect his wife and mother-in-law, who had been shielding.