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Opinion

Gething’s £200k donation makes him unfit to be First Minister

24 Feb 2024 7 minute read
Vaughan Gething MS – Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament

Martin Shipton

Vaughan Gething’s decision to accept donations totalling £200k from a convicted polluter marks him out as a politician totally unfit to be First Minister.

As I have discovered from those who have spoken to me, the revelation has deeply traumatised many members of Welsh Labour. In fact, coupled with other disgraceful elements of the party’s leadership contest, it has undermined faith in Welsh Labour’s commitment to democracy and brought the party into disrepute in a way nobody could have expected.

The two questions on everyone’s lips are why did Vaughan Gething accept such a huge sum of money from someone with a criminal past, and what could have motivated the donor to offer such a sum.

The implications of what has happened are awful. Mr Gething appears to be perfectly happy to accept £200k from the company of a businessman who was given a suspended prison sentence after admitting dumping toxic sludge illegally at the Gwent Levels – a precious landscape that the man he wants to succeed as First Minister chose to protect in preference to building a motorway through it.

Environmental credentials

Mark Drakeford’s decision was strongly criticised by the car lobby but established the Welsh Government’s environmental credentials and validated the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act as a signature piece of legislation.

Accepting £200k from a business whose boss had wilfully polluted the same Gwent Levels – and later received another suspended jail sentence for failing to remediate the site – shows clearly that Mr Gething’s claim to be a supporter of the environment is a hypocritical sham.

It also displays an arrogant disdain for his own government’s policy agenda.

Comments made to me by party members indicate the strength of feeling felt by many. A former Welsh Labour minister, who did not want to be named, told me: “At a time when Keir Starmer is calling out Tory sleaze, this looks like appalling judgement by Vaughan Gething.

“It could also be a breach of the Welsh Government Ministerial Code, a clause of which states: ‘Ministers should not accept any gift or hospitality which might, or might reasonably appear to, compromise their judgement or place them under an improper obligation.’

“After the earlier union stitch-up for Gething, Keir must be wondering what’s next going to crawl out of the Welsh Labour swamp.

“In fact, Vaughan Gething should give the £200k he got from the toxic sludge company to Natural Resources Wales to help with the remediation costs of another site damaged by a sister company in Pembrokeshire. His behaviour, on this just as on the Covid pandemic, shows a complete lack of judgement and a failure to think things through in detail.”

Another Labour Party member who contacted me was Malcolm King, a veteran councillor from Wrexham who became something of a hero in the 1990s when as chair of the social services committee on the old Clwyd County Council he campaigned to expose the infamous north Wales child abuse scandal in the teeth of opposition from powerful people who wanted it covered up. I hadn’t had any contact with Cllr King for many years until he called me out of the blue after reading the story I had written about the £200k donation to Mr Gething’s leadership campaign.

Outrage

I could sense the outrage and distress in his voice. He said: “I feel utterly sickened by the implications of this donation. I can hardly comprehend the scale of the misjudgement that allowed him to accept such a huge amount of cash, twice, at such a sensitive time from such a dodgy character. What on earth was he thinking of? I feel really let down by this. I think he’s let us all down.”

Cllr King went further: “How is it fair for one candidate in the leadership election to have such a huge advantage over his opponent? We in the Labour Party stand for fairness and expect our elected representatives to behave with honesty and be beyond reproach. Ordinary members of the public will look at this and think ‘is there something dodgy going on?’

“This is so bad that in my view Vaughan Gething is not fit to be a Member of the Senedd, let alone First Minister. The only honourable thing for him to do is to withdraw from the contest, but he won’t do that. If he wins the election, I will not be able to accept him as the leader of Welsh Labour and I think many others in the party may take the same view.”

Another Welsh Labour politician who contacted me said the £200k donation from Cardiff-based Dauson Environmental Group had “totally distorted” the contest between Vaughan Gething and Jeremy Miles. While Mr Gething had so far declared three donations totalling £203,000 to the Electoral Commission, Mr Miles had declared five donations totalling £32,300. The politician said: “The party needs to change the rules governing internal elections to ensure a disparity of this kind can’t happen again.”

US elections

Who would have thought that an internal election in Welsh Labour would raise concerns similar to the criticism there has been for many years about elections in the US, where candidates have to raise huge sums to have a chance of winning, thus putting them in debt to their donors, who often expect some kind of payback? Welsh Labour should surely introduce a cap on individual donations.

The £200k donation to Mr Gething is not, however, the only factor that puts Mr Miles at a disadvantage. Grassroots Labour Party members, of whom there are less than 20,000 in Wales, are not the only voters in the contest. More than 100,000 members of organisations affiliated to the party, mainly trade unions, also have a vote – and while the turnout amongst them is usually low, they could determine the outcome of this election.

Mr Gething has managed to gain nominations from six big unions – Unite, Unison, GMB, CWU, Community and Usdaw – none of which balloted their members to see which candidate they would like to back.

The most controversial nomination occurred when the Wales “regional secretary” of Unite intervened when it appeared committee members would back Mr Miles, and misused a recently introduced rule to ensure the union’s backing went to Mr Gething.

Winning the big union nominations gave a huge boost to Mr Gething’s campaign. It has meant that the unions have been sending lots of literature promoting him to their members. By contrast, Mr Miles does not have access to the unions’ membership lists, and so is unable to have nearly as wide a reach as Mr Gething. This is surely grossly unfair.

While it’s impossible to predict the result of the leadership contest – and, of course, many members will have voted before news of the £200k donation broke – it’s certainly true to say that Mr Gething has an in-built advantage.

Hollow

Let’s imagine that he wins. Given the widespread sense of betrayal within the party at the £200k donation, Mr Gething’s claim during the campaign that he is the candidate who can unify the party now seems rather hollow. The majority of Labour’s Senedd group was not backing Mr Gething before the £200k donation became known and their opposition to him has been hardened.

In the short term party members will want to concentrate on winning the coming general election, but afterwards attention will turn to the Senedd election in 2026. Mr Gething, if he wins the leadership, has little chance of becoming a popular First Minister, either within his party or in the country as a whole. The tactics employed during the leadership contest and in his career until now give a hint as to the kind of government he would run: one that is averse to scrutiny, has a sense of entitlement and is built around cliques.

There are already indications that a Starmer-led UK Government will be cautious rather than radical, a recipe that could easily lead to rapid disillusionment among the electorate.

An unpopular First Minister would be an additional bonus for the opposition parties.


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aw savill
aw savill
1 month ago

Excellent expose

Annibendod
Annibendod
1 month ago

“An unpopular First Minister would be an additional bonus for the opposition parties.” And to those who oppose democracy for our nation. I knew that Gething would prove divisive owing to his antipathy towards any meaningful further devolution. I also knew that he is a quite unpleasant political operator. However, the clear conflicts of interest and dubious practices have the potential to bring the Senedd into disrepute. Welsh Labour have a duty to investigate this man and withdraw the whip if he is guilty of wrongdoing. They cannot simply allow him to bulldoze his way to being First Minister of… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

Both Smiles and Gething leave me cold, but then so did Drakeford…

Cymru needs a geo-political makeover urgently, it has become what it always was…ungovernable…

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
1 month ago

Nation Cymru deserves a lot praise for bringing these shocking revelations to the attention of people in Wales. PS. plenty of ammunition there for Plaid to use against a Vaughan Gething led Welsh labour party in the 2026 Senedd elections

David
David
1 month ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

So long as Plaid Cymru does not go into a deal(understanding) with Labour.

Neilyn
Neilyn
1 month ago

3rd time lucky moderator?

How far would / will Mr Gethin go to deflect from any wrongdoing?

Lord Custard
Lord Custard
1 month ago

He certainly wouldn’t get my vote.

Elaine
Elaine
1 month ago

Apologies if I missed it but why the hell isn’t any of this in the news? ITV’s home page featured the 1st exposé of the Unite apparent gerrymandering but nothing since. Let’s not forget the other 2 recent dubious donations from men who have been investigated (prosecuted?) by NRW. Yesterday’s story about Gething’s former adviser was merely the cherry on top of an increasingly whiffy cake.
Covid Bereaved Cymru have come out against him too.

TJ
TJ
1 month ago

Nobody gives that amount of money without expecting something in return in the future.

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