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Opinion

Is the clock already ticking for First Minister Vaughan Gething?

27 Apr 2024 6 minute read
Wales’ new First Minister Vaughan Gething – Image: Ben Birchall

Emily Price

As pressure mounts on Vaughan Gething over his dodgy campaign donation, it seems to me it will be only a matter of time before someone launches a live video of his image beside a clock and a lettuce – or maybe a leek would be more apt.

From his tainted leadership bid, to calls for an independent probe into his decision to accept £200,000 from a waste company run by a man twice convicted of environmental offences, the new First Minister’s first month in office has certainly been mired in controversy.

In my view, his unyielding insistence that the sizeable donation he accepted from a convicted polluter was “all within the rules” is reminiscent of the attitude he previously displayed when he was caught chowing down on chips at a park bench during lockdown.

The famous snap taken in Cardiff Bay on a sunny bank holiday when picnics had been banned by the former Health Minister was sent to me by a concerned and angry member of the public who had been passing by whilst taking their daily exercise.

When I wrote and sold the story through a news agency, it later appeared in the Sun newspaper and eventually became subject to an IPSO investigation after Mr Gething insisted he hadn’t broken any rules.

IPSO did not uphold his complaint.

Judgement

Whilst he was kicking back in the sunshine with his family, millions of people were following Welsh Government guidance to stay indoors. Mr Gething never seemed to fully grasp why he was so heavily criticised for the image.

He appears to be displaying the same poor judgement now, whilst at the same time insisting his focus is on the people of Wales who are struggling to pay their bills in the midst of a post pandemic cost-of-living crisis.

Mr Gething can’t seem to fathom why struggling families would be outraged that a politician accepted a £200,000 donation from a company owned by a convicted polluter, all to fund his campaign to become the next Welsh Labour leader.

The huge sum represents the highest political donation made to a Welsh politician since it became a legal obligation to declare them – it’s worth around six times more than the average wage in Wales.

Chipgate

I was still a student and new to writing about Welsh politics when I wrote the ‘chipgate’ exclusive. But at the time I could never have imagined that just a few short years later, the same politician would succeed Mark Drakeford as First Minister – and still be trotting out the same tired line that “no rules have been broken”.

During his time as Health Minister in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Gething gained the nick name ‘Effing-Gething’ when he was caught on camera swearing at a Labour colleague during a virtual Senedd session.

He had committed the ultimate video conferencing faux pas when he accidentally left his microphone on and was heard referring to Jenny Rathbone asking, “What the f*** is the matter with her?”

This wasn’t the first time he had displayed behaviour unbecoming of an elected politician.

In August 2017, ITV News released footage of him storming out of an interview after he was asked a question he didn’t want to answer.

When he won the Labour leadership race last month, he was criticised for making a jibe at another journalist when she quizzed him on the £200,000 donation during a televised interview.

Key report

At the Covid Inquiry last year, Covid bereaved families were outraged when Mr Gething admitted he had never read a key report into how ready the UK was for a pandemic. During a later interview with the BBC, he was appeared visibly annoyed at being pressed on the matter and argued, “You cannot be the health minister without being incredibly hard working.”

Mr Gething has always had a knack for creating the wrong kind of headlines.

His second week being quizzed in the Senedd saw him relentlessly grilled by opposition leaders on the donation and the Development Bank of Wales’ £400k loan awarded to a company owned by the same convicted polluter who made the £200,000 donation to the First Minister’s campaign.

Despite him reiterating that the donation was “registered and recorded appropriately” – his cabinet secretaries didn’t appear to want to fight his corner.

During First Minister’s Questions, his newly appointed cabinet along with his Labour backbenchers remained silent whilst he attempted to swat away questions about the donation scandal.

Review

Mr Gething later ruled out an independent probe but announced that former Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones would lead an internal review of the donations on behalf of Welsh Labour.

But instructing Welsh Labour to mark their own homework won’t make the criticisms of him go away.

His Labour leadership competitor, Jeremy Miles, appeared to fan the flames by creating more headlines when he said during a BBC interview that he would never have accepted the money.

Wales’ new Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Ken Skates, who co-chaired Mr Gething’s campaign also appeared to distance himself from the political storm when he told the BBC he had nothing to do with the donation.

In my view, with Mr Gething in office the focus will always be on him and his various political indescretions – which will continue to produce news stories. Whilst he is the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons, he can never tackle the many challenges Wales is currently facing.

We deserve a First Minister who doesn’t drag the Welsh Government into scandals then expect everyone to turn a blind eye until he blunders into the next one.

During the Labour leadership race, a Welsh Conservative source told me, “Vaughan is better for the Welsh Conservatives, but Jeremy would be better for Wales”. Mr Gething has certainly lived up to that expectation so far – and he’s only a few weeks into his premiership.

Liz Truss’s short-lived tenure as Prime Minister lasted 50 days – I wonder if Mr Gething can beat that?


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Evan Aled Bayton
Evan Aled Bayton
25 days ago

Even if it is legal the appearance of wrongdoing is such that Mr Gething ought to resign. If he can’t see that his behaviour looks wrong he ought not to continue.

Gaynor
Gaynor
25 days ago

The chip eating exercise was a silly, petty sensationalist non story.. and it has been pretty obvs that VG has been lined up as Drakeford’s successor for a few years. His constant arrogance, ambivalence with the truth and his performance as a Minister has been diabolical and reflects on the maffia tendancy of Welsh Labour. There again why do people behave like sheep and keep voting them into power? Is it because there is no credible alternative?

Ed the spud
Ed the spud
18 days ago
Reply to  Gaynor

The problem with the Welsh Labour voters it’s a family rite my dad votes Labour his dad voted Labour and so on people need to wake up to the fact they are just watered down conservatives. Look at the way they have handled the Tata steel fiasco, the closing of the coke ovens in Margam works where it’s been quoted that it’s to expensive to Import coal and the fact that there are millions of tons of it under Margam mountain but the environmentalists put the spanner in that one and that Tata are to build 2 new blast furnaces… Read more »

Last edited 18 days ago by Ed the spud
jayne davies
jayne davies
24 days ago

I emailed him and was instantly blocked …he’s a disgraceful person …as is all Welsh labour , Julie James is appalling …self-centred people having monies corruptly but always getting away with it ….

Erisian
Erisian
24 days ago

It’s not just about the dodgy contributiions, it’s also about the way Miles got stiched up by the Unions

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