Vaughan Gething only joined ‘stitch-up’ union months ago
A “stitch-up” row that has rocked the Welsh Labour leadership election has become murkier as it emerged that Vaughan Gething only joined the trade union that nominated him in dubious circumstances a few months ago.
Nation.Cymru revealed how Jeremy Miles, Mr Gething’s rival in the contest to succeed Mark Drakeford as Welsh Labour leader and First Minister, had been disqualified from getting Unite the Union’s nomination for the party leadership.
Both Mr Gething and Mr Miles attended a hustings meeting at which they made speeches and answered questions put by members of Unite’s Welsh political committee.
But before those present voted on who to support, the process was interrupted by the union’s “regional secretary” for Wales, Peter Hughes, who ruled that as a result of a recently introduced rule, Mr Miles was not eligible to receive Unite’s nomination.
Mr Miles was told he was disqualified because he had never been a lay union official and the nomination was handed by default to Mr Gething.
But the existence of the rule in question was not declared to Mr Miles when he was invited by Unite to attend and participate in the nomination hustings.
Neither was it referred to during the hustings. And after the hustings concluded, the leadership of Unite failed to mention it to him.
Until last July, Clause 22.10 of the Unite rulebook read: “The Union shall maintain a panel of members wishing to seek political office including becoming [a] member of the UK, Scottish, Welsh Assembly and European Parliaments and any such other public bodies as the Executive Council may decide. The composition, including the process and the qualifications required to become a member of the panel, shall be determined by the Executive Council.”
Only the agenda for a Unite Rules Conference that took place in Brighton in July 2023 is publicly available on the internet.
An amendment to Clause 22.10 was to be moved by the union’s Manchester Public Services and Local Government Branch as follows: “Delete the second sentence and replace with: The Union will only formally endorse candidates who have held elected lay office as representatives of workers. Unite the Union Representatives will be given priority. The composition, including the process required to become a member of the panel, shall be determined by the Executive Council.”
From the decision taken to disqualify Miles, it seems that the amendment was passed – even though the updated version of the rulebook hasn’t yet been published.
But there is doubt over whether the amended rule justified the exclusion of Miles. The rule refers to a panel of members comprising those “wishing to seek political office including becoming [a] member of the UK, Scottish, Welsh Assembly and European Parliaments and any such other public bodies as the Executive Council may decide”.
But Miles isn’t “wishing to become a member” of the Senedd. He already is one. Nor was he involved in any panel. He was asking the union to support his bid to become leader of Welsh Labour – something not explicitly covered by the rule.
Mr Miles’ team believes the process was interrupted when it became clear that he was likely to win the nomination. Members of both Welsh Labour and Unite have described the way he was treated as a “stitch-up”.
Because Mr Gething has been awarded the nomination, Unite officials will now promote his leadership candidacy to the union’s members in Wales, urging them to cast their vote for him. Nevertheless, individuals are entitled to vote for the candidate of their choice.
It was suggested to us that it would be worth establishing when Mr Gething became a member of Unite.
Obviously we do not have access to the union’s membership records. But as an MS, he is obliged to declare his membership of societies, including trade unions, on the Register of Members’ Interests.
Mr Gething was elected to the then National Assembly in 2011. For 11 years he did not declare any union membership. Then in April 2022 he declared that he was now a member of two unions – Unison and GMB.
In September 2023 he declared that in addition to being a member of Unison and GMB, he was also now a member of Unite.
He had not been a member of Unite at the time of the previous update of the Register of Members’ Interests in April 2023, from which it seems reasonable to conclude that he had joined Unite between April 2023 and September 2023.
We wrote to Mr Gething, pointing out to him that the entries in the Register of Members’ Interests show that the first reference to his being a member of Unite the Union occurred as recently as September 6 2023.
We asked him: “When and why did you join Unite? Was it to take advantage of the new rule passed at Unite’s Rules Conference in July 2023 that was used to exclude Jeremy Miles from getting the union’s party leadership nomination? If earlier than your first declaration to the Register, why didn’t you declare it before?”
We received a statement from a spokesperson for Mr Gething’s campaign that only said: “Vaughan Gething is proud to be a member of Unite and honoured to have received their nomination for Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister of Wales.”
The spokesperson added: “The Register of Interests is kept up to date.”
Reacting to the statement from Mr Gething’s office, a Welsh Labour source who supports Mr Miles said: “That’s just awful. Union members will be furious that he’s joined within six months for the nomination and Jeremy has been a member for something like 15 years.”
In fact, Mr Miles joined Unite in 2008.
Voting will open in the leadership contest on February 16 and the result will be announced on March 16.
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