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Opinion

It’s not going awfully well

16 May 2024 5 minute read
Labour supporters applaud Vaughan Gething following his election as leader of Welsh Labour. Photo Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Ben Wildsmith

Transitions of power are often jolting, as a management style to which people have become accustomed is replaced by something else.

In a functioning democracy, they would usually be in response to the people’s will. An example of that would be the cautious, torpid air of John Major’s administration giving way to the energy and ruthlessness of Tony Blair.

It was the mood of the UK at the time, so it found political expression.

In a de facto one-party state like Wales, however, the preferences of voters are of little import.

Power

Leadership of the Labour Party guarantees power here and the wider UK positioning of the party is a major factor in determining its character in Wales.

Mark Drakeford, in his gentle, if occasionally tetchy, way was a headache for the party in London. His leadership was policy-led and informed by his commitment to devolution as the form of governance that suited Wales.

The pungency of objections to those policies, and to his opposition to independence serves to underline the doggedness with which he pursued them.

“Welsh Labour” is not a thing outside of campaigning leaflets and the platitudes of politicians.

The party here has no independence from UK Labour and doesn’t even run its own bank accounts. Party officials here are hired from London and the leadership in the Senedd has no authority over Labour MPs in Westminster.

Constitutional weakness

Drakeford’s success in putting a little tangible distance between UK policy and that in Wales belied the constitutional weakness of the party in Wales.

He benefited from two phenomena: a UK party that was preoccupied with tearing itself apart during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and a Conservative government in Westminster that dominated the news cycle by virtue of unprecedented incompetence.

In effect, the Drakeford government went under the radar.

UK Labour in 2024, however, is a very different beast. On the cusp of power and tacking rapidly to the right in the belief it can capture Tory England forever, it is no longer in the mood to indulge radical experiments in Cardiff Bay.

Before the Welsh leadership election was even announced, Vaughan Gething was benefiting from Guardian puff pieces announcing him as the coming man in the Senedd.

Upon assuming office, he was immediately invited to attend a shadow cabinet meeting, an honour that was never bestowed upon Drakeford.

Pre-ordained

Policy-free, and not given to public statements of principle, Gething’s rise seemed to be pre-ordained.

Despite unpopularity amongst the party in the Senedd, it appeared powerless, and largely voiceless, as he emerged the victor.

The implication that he is Starmer’s man in Wales seems beyond dispute. He is there to keep Wales on message and prevent us from becoming an embarrassment to the UK party in election year.

It’s not going awfully well.

Whilst he has mastered the Starmerite technique of firing anybody who threatens the leadership’s line, he has failed to see the distinction between doing this for perceived party advantage and resorting to it to quell urgent concerns about his own fitness for office.

In the short time Gething has been in post his dismissal of legitimate questions about his professional behaviour has been a defining characteristic.

“Politics is expensive”, he told us when we learned of the enormous funds he received from a questionable donor.

Questions about his deletion of messages related to the Covid enquiry were met with blank denial and apparent contempt for those asking them. Now, as the voices grow louder, he has dismissed a colleague for disloyalty without troubling the record with any proof to counter her denials.

The sparseness of Gething’s defence is underlined by the ease with which Andrew RT Davies is making mincemeat of him on social media. The First Minister has, in a few weeks, contrived to make Davies seem sensible. Let. That. Sink. In.

Gething’s antics today again made the UK press and just as the London Labour party can impose leaders on us so they can remove them when they become an embarrassment.

It is telling, don’t you think, that the much vaunted professional operation behind Sir Keir Starmer was unable to see through the pliable acquiescence of Vaughan Gething to the questionable nature of his success.

Personal ambition has defined Gething’s political career since his days on Cardiff Council. As long ago as 2004 he was facing allegations of electoral misconduct when he narrowly defeated Betty Campbell in Butetown.

A simple Google search could have told the ‘forensic’ leader of the opposition that.

As things stand, the prospects of a bronze Vaughan Gething statue gazing out across Cardiff are very slim indeed.


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Annibendod
Annibendod
1 day ago

If anybody needed reminding why Labour are so bad for Wales, then Gething should serve as a salutory lesson. Drakeford’s influence, there since the days of Morgan, has faded. If ever there was a need for Wales’ Left to unite behind Plaid Cymru, now is the time! Yes, I know … Plaid is far from perfect. As saddened as I am by cllr Nicholas’ departure, I understand his frustrations. That’s exactly why I want as many of you good people on board as possible. We need honourable progressive proponents of a Democratic Welsh State on board, making us fit to… Read more »

adrian savill
adrian savill
1 day ago

Are the Welsh Tories financially independent…?

CapM
CapM
1 day ago
Reply to  adrian savill

Sock puppets same as Labour

Garry Jones
Garry Jones
1 day ago

First rate reporting and analysis in Ben’s piece above:
“The First Minister has, in a few weeks, contrived to make [Andrew RT] Davies seem sensible. Let. That. Sink. In.”
Toast anyone?

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
11 minutes ago

I wish to thank Ben for this excellent article. It is honest. Now we see Labour in its true form: a subservient to UK Labour and its centralised leadership. Even though they wear red and sing ‘the red flag’ they are, more or less, the same as their Tory opponents. The Scottish have seen through this. Read or Blue do nothing for you. They went for change. Most democratic countries have decentralised systems of government. Deutschland was the first to take it further by having a 2nd chamber which are representatives of local ‘Lander’ governments. The UK Labour party may… Read more »

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