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Opinion

After the new revelations about his donor, Vaughan Gething cannot survive

23 Jun 2024 6 minute read
First Minister of Wales Vaughan Gething Photo Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Martin Shipton

Things have just got even worse for Vaughan Gething.

It was bad enough that he accepted donations totalling £200,000 from a convicted criminal for his Welsh Labour leadership campaign.

It was shocking when it became clear that he had lied to the UK Covid Inquiry and deleted iMessages because he feared they would be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

What we now learn is that the convicted donor has been accused of breaking not just environmental laws, but of failing to pay tax due to the Welsh Government for the dumping of waste in a controversial landfill site.

The donor at the centre of the scandal, David Neal, hasn’t, of course, been charged, let alone convicted, of evading the payment of landfill disposals tax. But the fact that his waste group is being looked at by regulators as a potential transgressor is a very serious matter.

People who have worked for his companies have come forward to allege that the law has been broken. They deserve to be listened to and action must be taken if there are irregularities or worse to pursue.

Withyhedge

What has been established is a potential link between the noxious smells emitted from the Withyhedge landfill site near Haverfordwest and the alleged “mischaracterisation” of waste dumped in it.

With landfill disposals tax currently at around £3 per tonne for inert waste, like soil, and more than £100 per tonne for all other waste, there is a clear financial motive for waste companies to be cavalier in their approach towards their environmental responsibilities and economical with the truth with regard to their financial obligations.

The landfill site’s neighbours in Pembrokeshire, who have had to put up with a horrible stench for more than six months, will certainly be interested in the outcome.

Investigations into Mr Neal’s activities in the waste industry will doubtless continue, as they should. But for Mr Gething, the consequences will be political rather than legal.

Weakened

Already weakened by his association with Mr Neal, it’s inevitable that the First Minister will be dragged into any and every development concerning Mr Neal and his business interests.

Mr Gething and his adherents may consider that unfair, and an unreasonable example of guilt by association. But one of the essential requirements for a successful political career is to avoid being dragged into someone else’s mess.

When Vaughan Gething decided to accept a huge donation from Mr Neal, he signed up for whatever consequences transpired. Given Mr Neal’s well documented criminal record, it was a particularly reckless decision.

To think otherwise demonstrates a lethal combination of arrogance, entitlement and naivety – none of which are desirable qualities for a politician of any kind, let alone a supposed national leader.

Advice

It also suggests a deficiency in the quality of advice offered to Mr Gething.

We are not privy to whose counsel he sought as he considered whether it was appropriate for him to accept such a huge sum from a donor. It’s safe to assume, however, that one of those consulted was his agent, David Costa.

Mr Costa is a former deputy general secretary of Welsh Labour. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Labour Party’s rulebook, and is regarded by many insiders, not without affection, as the apparatchik’s apparatchik.

For Mr Costa, Mr Gething did nothing wrong when he accepted Mr Neal’s £200k because there was no clause in the party rulebook that he had contravened. Such a view has constantly been trotted out by Mr Gething and his supporters ever since NationCymru was the first news outlet to reveal the “dodgy donations”.

What the promotion of such a narrative displays, however, is a dearth of political judgement.

Mr Costa would doubtless achieve a record high score if he appeared on Mastermind and chose the Labour Party rulebook as his specialist subject. But he would score badly if marks were awarded for political good sense.

The negative reaction to Mr Gething’s decision to accept Mr Neal’s money was quite predictable – but for Mr Costa and his ilk the crucial factor was that there was no party rule to exclude it. It seems reasonable to conclude that Mr Costa, locked in his rule-dominated mindset, was not the best person from whom to take advice.

Care

This leads on to another requirement for political leaders: that they should choose their advisers with care and wisdom. Mr Gething’s tendency to surround himself with those who tell him what he wants to hear is another trait that makes him a poor leader.

If he had a good set of advisers, the message he would be receiving is that now is the time to resign. As Labour prepares to take over the UK Government, Wales needs a First Minister who will stand up for its interests at the new seat of power.

As Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens revealed in her condescending interview with Newyddion’s Catrin Haf Jones how she will be inclined to treat aspirations for more devolved powers that have been Welsh Government policy for years. They will be rejected as unnecessary “tinkering” by Ms Stevens and the Starmer-led UK Government, despite expert backing for constitutional reform.

It seems likely that Ms Stevens is intending to play hard ball. During the interview Ms Jones made the astute point – and I paraphrase – that a wounded and weakened leader like Mr Gething is precisely the kind of First Minister Starmer’s centralist government would like to have in Wales.

Other manoeuvres like the imposition of Labour London lawyer Alex Barros-Curtis on Cardiff West as its new candidate have swept away at a stroke 25 years of “clear red water” brought to Wales by Rhodri Morgan and Mark Drakeford.

Vaughan Gething was always going to be a creature of UK Labour, just like Alun Michael before him, whose fragile power base was centred on the same Cardiff South and Penarth constituency.

Getting rid of Gething is a desirable aim for more than one reason. He will forever be associated with David Neal and his continuing controversies, which will constantly haunt him and, if he is still First Minister, pose a threat to Labour’s leadership of Wales at the next Senedd election in 2026.

And as a result of this and other deficiencies, he cannot be the strong leader Wales needs in the UK’s new political dynamic that will come into being after July 4.


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Welshman28
Welshman28
22 days ago

His arrogance on the Election special on BBCWales with other parties was unbelievable and blatantly refused to apologise for taking the donation, even challenge by the programmes compare he still refused . How on earth anyone in the Labour Party can back this leaves everyone just thinking “so this is how Labour now behaves” don’t do as I do do as I say. Comes to mind

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
22 days ago

Let this be a lesson to all aspiring politicians in Cymru that they will all be offered the same bar in future…

N.C shall be the home of ‘Due Diligence’ henceforth…

Be brave, vote Plaid…

Erisian
Erisian
22 days ago

A somewhat convenient Jesuitical reading of the rules.

Ap Kenneth
22 days ago

Hats off too you Mr Shipton, you brought the story to National attention and lay out the consequences. The only question is will Welsh Labour dump him as leader as he is walking wounded for the rest of his career?
PS You also came across very well on Channel 4s Dispatches.

Frank
Frank
22 days ago

I think if a vote of no confidence had been done by the electorate he would have had his marching orders without a big payout and a fancy pension and not rewarded financially in any way for being a very naughty boy.

Last edited 22 days ago by Frank
Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
21 days ago
Reply to  Frank

Why don’t the people of Cardiff South and Penarth vote Plaid Cymru ?
They don’t have to accept this situation.

Welshman28
Welshman28
21 days ago

Cardiff South is mainly Labour look at the area

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
21 days ago
Reply to  Welshman28

You know the saying for South Wales, put anything alongside Labour on the ballot paper and they will vote for it

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
22 days ago

Either our First Minister Vaughan Gething doesn’t realise the gravity of the situation or he’s supremely ignorant. When he received his £200k must have known his donor was twice convicted of environmental damage. Just look how those in Pembrokeshire near the very landfill in question. They are suffering greatly with the putrid odour emitted making their lives a misery. A question to our First Minister. Where were your advisors when David Neal offered you financial support to his candidacy? Nobody gives financial support for no return. Does Labour regard the Welsh electorate with such distain that he thinks they’ll accept… Read more »

Adrian
Adrian
21 days ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

It’s a trait of Labour politicians though isn’t it? Starmer’s prone to regular mis-steps because he can’t seem to think further than the end of his nose – most recently, his Corbyn comments. Rayner’s just blotted her copybook just to gouge a few quid and didn’t think it would ever come out. I don’t whether it’s stupidity, arrogance, or a mixture of both.

Ron Biggly
Ron Biggly
21 days ago
Reply to  Adrian

Meanwhile the £5m knighthood is fine.

Adrian
Adrian
20 days ago
Reply to  Ron Biggly

Astonishingly, two things can be true at the same time.

Valley girl
Valley girl
22 days ago

Oh come on VG, your actions are embarrassing to the public in Wales. You must do the honourable thing and resign.

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
21 days ago
Reply to  Valley girl

…. All the people of the Welsh valleys, like yourself, should consider the only alternative for Wales. To vote for the party of Wales – Plaid Cymru.

There is no other alternative in the coming elections for us as a nation.

John Davies
John Davies
21 days ago

Makes me appreciate Drakeford all the more. He was a real operator, dancing delicately around the whole independence issue, running his own show while keeping the Starmeroid centralist control-freaks at bay… all without open conflict and with never a whiff of scandal. Gething, by comparison, is a complete walking disaster area. He has got to go. The longer he hangs on, the more damage he will do to his cause, and more importantly to Wales.

John Ellis
John Ellis
21 days ago
Reply to  John Davies

Likewise. When Drakeford was elected Labour leader and thus became FM I thought he would be a dead loss. To my amazement he proved in practice to be quite a star.

John Dakin
John Dakin
16 days ago
Reply to  John Davies

Drakeford was/is a geriatric idiot ! I’m years older than him and could jump over him if I was tied up !

Dewi
Dewi
21 days ago

Problem is he didn’t win, the Jeremy guy won – same Alun Michael & Rhodri Morgan; will never go away .

Last edited 21 days ago by Dewi
Daf
Daf
19 days ago

David Costa and Stewart Owadally advised Gething during his leadership campaign. Both have been rewarded with higher status roles within the Labour Party in Wales since the Gething donation fiasco. They need to be answering some questions, surely. And we know the Labour Party refused to accept the leftover donation money, which would normally be the case. We’ve just been told loftily that the surplus funds went to “progressive” organisations. Which progressive organisations? So “progressive” that they are happy to accept money donated by a man convicted of breaking environment law? I think we should know who these shining paragons… Read more »

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
16 days ago

The arrogance and entitlement of Gething is in a class of its own with Stevens not far behind. Two peas in a pod of self serving hypocrites

Betel23
Betel23
16 days ago

He is definitely the author of his own downfall, now he’s been flying halfway around the world Upper first class to talk to India’s Tata Steel owners, it must have gone well, the Steel works is closing down next week.

Betel23
Betel23
16 days ago

I see there is anew party on the scene.
http://Www.AbolishtheWelshAssembly.co.uk
You couldn’t make this up.🙃

Malcolmmorgan23@gmail.com
16 days ago

Utterly corrupt he is quoted on ITV claiming he is honorable man.well if you where honorable you clearly dont act in this manner and kie starmer should be strong enough manager to dismiss vaughn gethin instead he is so weak he supported him not good infact worrying terrible news for all residents of Wales getthemo

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