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Opinion

From the Senedd to the roofs

19 May 2024 7 minute read
First Minister Vaughan Gething – Image Senedd Cymru

Ben Wildsmith

I went to see the National Theatre’s production of Nye on Friday evening.

We could have seen Michael Sheen’s magnificent performance in person, there’s a few tickets available at the Millennium Centre, but the filmed version at Hopkinstown Hall seemed more appropriate somehow.

Watching the play in a small, Valleys venue with a village feel and a table of retired NHS nurses passing round a box of Cadburys Roses underscored one of the play’s themes, that the values of Wales birthed the UK’s greatest social institution.

Bevan inspires a religious devotion in many of us. Flawed as he was, our perception is of a man whose motivation was principled and heartfelt.

As the solidity of 20th century industrial life has given way to a technological quicksand that seems to give way beneath our feet, he is a touchstone of humanity in politics.

Religiosity, however, is a dangerous tendency when it comes to politics. For many of us with roots in industrial communities, putting a cross next to the Labour candidate is as reflexive as the one Catholics make when they see a funeral procession.

We’re brought up on a whole testament of stories that see the Attlee government delivering us from evil forever and ever, amen.

Journalistic rigour

If religions point towards the divine, it is persistent human error to start worshipping the finger and round here it can feel that way with Labour.

From Neil Kinnock onwards, a red rosette has frequently been employed not to celebrate the blood and guts of communities demanding change, but to conceal the timidity of those without the minerals or inclination to insist upon it.

Labour politicians in South Wales are amongst the most comfortable mammals on the planet.

Whilst I was watching socialism happen in the theatre, the Senedd Labour group was meeting to discuss something to which they are wholly unaccustomed: sustained scrutiny of their behaviour from within Wales.

Nation.Cymru’s Martin Shipton and Emily Price have, over the last few months, brought to Welsh politics the journalistic rigour that a mature democracy demands.

Their questions of the First Minister have been necessary and would be considered standard practice in Westminster, Washington, or Paris.

Vaughan Gething’s refusal to engage seriously with the concerns that surround his election as Labour leader, and his conduct during the pandemic would provoke a political crisis in any free society.

Gravy-train riders

Consider, for a moment, what it is like to be a Labour supporter or activist at the moment.

Your work colleagues never shut up about 20mph speed limits and are convinced that the Senedd is stuffed full of gravy-train riders who don’t understand the lives of ordinary people.

You’re terrified yourself that you might pick up points on your commute to work; how will you afford the insurance?

Still, you tell yourself, personal sacrifice is the noblest aspect of community service. You’ve read the statistics on road traffic deaths, and this is just something we all need to live with.

It’s the same as when you must remember to decelerate to 50mph on the M4. Doing so reduces air pollution which can damage the developing lungs of children and make life hard for older people too.

It’s a pain in the arse when you just want to get home and there’s next to no traffic, but that’s how we roll. Those are our values. The blokes at work might take the piss but you’re holding the line because it matters.

Racially driven

Now, imagine being that person when it emerged that the new leader of your party had taken two hundred grand in campaign donations from a convicted polluter.

How do you think the tea-break convo at work goes then?

Given the enormity of the death toll, you can assume that at least one colleague there lost a person dear to them during the worst stages of the pandemic.

What do you say to them when they ask why Vaughan Gething can’t explain the deletion of crucial messages demanded by the Covid inquiry?

Apparently, you should accuse them of being racists.

Reports from the Labour group meeting describe the First Minister characterising the questions asked of him by the press as ‘racially driven’.

On Saturday the Welsh Labour (sic) BAME Committee issued this statement.

Statement from Welsh Labour BAME committee

Over-scrutiny

Now, the over-scrutiny of BAME politicians, along with that of females is most assuredly a real problem in UK politics. It takes many forms.

We have seen the absurd over-reporting of Diane Abbott drinking a mojito on the London underground and the inflation of her misstep in calculating the cost of police recruitment into a campaign of sustained national bullying.

Currently, the penny-halfpenny details of Angela Rayner’s historic house sale have generated exponentially more column inches than the many questions surrounding billions spent by Conservative ministers during the pandemic.

On the other side of the coin, left wing journalists often suggest that politicians like Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman are to be condemned more vehemently than others for their views because their ethnicity implies a kind of betrayal.

All of this journalistic practice is overtly prejudicial and common in UK publications.

Dogwhistle filth

By citing the Daily Mail, the Welsh Labour (sic) Committee seeks to draw equivalence between the dogwhistle filth of billionaire-owned tabloids and the scrutiny that Vaughan Gething is facing from the Welsh media.

The questions Mr Gething faces are not inflated ‘gotchas’ to further a separate agenda, they speak to fundamentals in our political landscape.

Mr Gething was previously Minister of Health during the most harrowing period of national life since the war. Subsequently, he has been elevated to the position of First Minister, the greatest entrustment that Wales can bestow.

To question the validity of examining his conduct during the pandemic and how he assumed his current office is outrageous.

If the press is to be constrained from doing the basic work the electorate demands of it, then why are we here?

It wasn’t long ago that Andrew RT Davies was on the floor of the Senedd demanding the closure of Nation.Cymru because it was a government mouthpiece.

He still hasn’t invited me for a pint, mind.

Opposition to bigotry

The meeting was held in response to Plaid Cymru ending their cooperation agreement with the government.

Here is where this incident becomes more urgent.

If we are racist for asking questions of the First Minister, then is Plaid also racist for withdrawing formal support for his government?

Racism has rightly become the most serious accusation in public life. My own position is that antiracism is the only non-racist position a person or organisation can adopt.

To fall short of active opposition to bigotry is to tolerate it.

With that accusation on the table, the responsibility now lies with Labour members of the Senedd to state their position.

Do they believe the Welsh media, and specific journalists, to be racist or not? Do they believe Plaid Cymru’s decision to be based on acceptance of a racist premise?

Patrician contempt

As Nye fades away at the end of Tim Price’s play, held safe until his final moment by the NHS he created, that legacy is still stewarded by his party in Wales, and soon in the wider UK.

If there’s a prejudice at play in the coverage of Vaughan Gething it is rooted in a distrust of his commitment to the historical values of his party in Wales.

His patrician contempt for those challenging him is at odds with the communities he seeks to lead, regardless of their ethnicity.

His problem is not that he represents the BAME people of Wales, but that he seems only to represent himself.

Confident as Labour candidates may be of Welsh crosses next to their names, they should remember Luke 12:3:

‘What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.’


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Annibendod
Annibendod
25 days ago

I’m absolutely furious with the false flag that has been raised on behalf of Vaughan Gething. Total gutter politics. Ben nails it here. I’ve zero beef with Mr Gething’s ethicity. My beef is that Gething allegedly accepted £200k from a man with a conviction for pollution offences for whom he lobbied. Moreover, in the course of the Welsh Labour leadership election, Unite rules appear to have been altered secretly to favour him as a candidate. The arrogance with which he has approached these matters is astounding. He has brought the Senedd and the Welsh Government into disrepute and the response… Read more »

Last edited 25 days ago by Annibendod
Richard Davies
Richard Davies
25 days ago
Reply to  Annibendod

This is a great article, with a great comment from Annibendod. The sentiments of both I fully agree with.

Steve George
Steve George
24 days ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

Hear, hear!

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
24 days ago
Reply to  Annibendod

Clywch, clywch!

Gareth W
Gareth W
21 days ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Écoutez, écoutez!

April
April
25 days ago

He’s made clear many times that he thinks he’s above scrutiny, by insulting journalists as ‘not serious’ or suggesting they didn’t know how to do their jobs for asking the very questions that makes their jobs. He’s literally walked away from valid scrutiny because he thinks he’s better than it. To accuse people of something so low, when every other FM has dealt with the hard stuff when thrown at them, is heart breaking and makes Wales look embarrassing on the larger stage. I didn’t vote for him but had a tiny slight hope that he might grow up a… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
24 days ago
Reply to  April

I agree with most of what you wrote there, but far from being embarrassed we should be proud that we have a functioning media that is clearly ruffling the feathers of power to the point where they are clearly bothered to the point of countering with completely absurd claims that does their cause no favours.

That our embryonic national media is having such an impact should be a matter for celebration and an argument for a more formal recognition of the need for a free Welsh media.

April
April
24 days ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

It is great to see the scrutiny and the impact it’s having, I mean it’s embarrassing more that the most Wales has come up in national media lately, has been these stories that show our politics in a negative light. But nice one Nation, it’s good to see excellent journalists at work.

Huw Evans
Huw Evans
25 days ago

This is line in the sand stuff. A vibrant free press is essential for all of us. The problem is we don’t have it yet. Accusations of racism concerning proper scrutiny of behaviour which raises questions on any reasonable basis must be challenged. Otherwise free speech doesn’t happen.

PeterC
PeterC
25 days ago

Nothing to do with race; everything to do with competence and Gething isn’t

Shan Morgain
23 days ago

Gething is so obviously a Westminster stooge. I was concerned that Drakey would be a hard act to follow. So I carefully lowered expectations a bit. I did expect a Welsh Labour guy not a Westminster placeholder. I favoured the other bloke over Gething but then I waited to see with open mind. Now? Yuk. NationCymru you go.

T3DSK1
T3DSK1
21 days ago

The big problem now is if you question the powers that be you are likely to be looked upon as a person of questionable morality ethics a pinko social pariah racist whatever.
Where is the alternative what happened to truth honesty integrity …….

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