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Opinion

It’s time for Vaughan Gething to put the focus on Wales instead of himself

13 Apr 2024 7 minute read
Vaughan Gething, at Cardiff University, after being elected as Welsh Labour leader and First Minister of Wales. Image: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Martin Shipton

A month after Vaughan Gething was elected leader of Welsh Labour, it’s surely time he set out in detail what he plans to do as First Minister.

With the excuse of an over-long Easter recess, he’s spent the weeks since his tainted victory was announced being showcased around Westminster and elsewhere by Keir Starmer and then touring the London TV studios to talk about his role as Europe’s first black head of government.

So far the focus has been on Vaughan Gething as an identity politics icon – it should now be on Wales.

In between his appearance on daytime TV programmes, Mr Gething gave what was quite a revealing interview to Catrin Haf Jones on S4C’s Y Byd yn ei Le.

As the first non-Welsh-speaking First Minister, it was conducted, unusually for the programme, in English (apart from the obligatory “diolch yn fawr” at the end).

Predictable

What Mr Gething said was depressingly predictable, and did not bode well for the future, in my view.

Asked why struggling hospitality businesses had had their business rates relief cut while much more generous arrangements were in place in England, he trotted out this monologue: “My message to everyone is that I understand it’s a very challenging time, for family budgets, for businesses, for public services and, indeed, the Welsh Government isn’t immune from that.

“You’ve got to have a balanced budget – that means you can’t deal with all of the very real pressures that exist. I understand the cost-of-living crisis is very real for people and for businesses, and I understand the tax burden makes a big difference for those businesses that rely on discretionary spend.

“I can’t resolve all of those challenges with the budget we’ve got – and this is about bigger priorities. I know people who run small businesses want the health service to work as well.”

Pushed on the financial difficulties facing higher education, where universities are planning redundancies, he said: “We know that higher education is facing exactly the same challenges as further education, schools and indeed childcare is suffering.

“Our challenge is the scale of the budget we have – and actually that’s, when you look at it, over £1bn in real terms has been taken out of our budget in addition to the additional £1bn we’ve lost from former EU funds.”

And he stated: “The truth is, unless we have a different settlement for the budget we have for the Welsh Government, there will be more and more difficult choices for us to make.”

Economic growth

Asked where the money to plug the funding gap would come from under an incoming Labour UK government, Mr Gething repeated the vague but aspirational assertion of Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves that it would derive from economic growth.

Herein lies the difficulty. Labour has ruled out rejoining the European single market, which would be the best way to ensure growth. Neither has much been said recently about the possibility of establishing closer trading links with the EU that fall short of rejoining the single market – probably because Starmer realises that the benefits would be marginal and insignificant.

Starmer and Reeves have made it clear that there will be no opening of the spending floodgates when they take power after the general election victory that is way beyond reasonable doubt.

The big question for Vaughan Gething in this context is how will he react when the UK Government depriving Wales of the money he says his administration needs is run by Labour rather than the Tories.

He will certainly have some circle squaring to do.

Standing up for Wales

Since being elected he has done nothing to dispel the widely held belief in political circles that he is Keir Starmer’s man in Wales. But could he surprise us all by standing up for Wales against a Starmer-led Westminster government?

The fact is that he’s a party man through and through. Expect him to blame 14 years of Tory mismanagement for why Labour can’t provide the money he says Wales needs.

In reality, of course, continuing austerity policies will impede the drive for growth that Starmer, Reeves and Gething say is so vital.

There is something drearily fatalistic about all this. Wales is being set up to fail yet again.

Some of us, however, have loftier ambitions and expectations. We would like a new First Minister who, instead of devising excuses for future failure, actually came up with a plan aimed at improving public services.

A Labour leader should have a radical programme for government, aimed at improving people’s lives.

What’s the point otherwise?

Waiting times

The Welsh Government’s most costly responsibility is, of course, the NHS. It has unacceptably long waiting times for those awaiting treatment – we all know that.

It’s time for significant improvement. Mr Gething had a stint as Health Minister that no one with a straight face could say was a roaring success and retain their credibility. Is he any wiser now he’s First Minister? He should spell out exactly how the waiting times will be reduced and by when.

People are also worried about falling standards of education. The international PISA assessments of basic teenage reading and maths skills have seen Wales falling back in comparison with the other UK countries.

A long-cherished ambition to spend as much money per head on Welsh pupils as those in England has not been achieved.

What are Mr Gething’s plans to deal with this? Enough of the whingeing about a lack of sufficient resources. Let’s make improvements with the resources we have got.

A senior Welsh Labour source, who did not wish to be identified, said: “I want to see Vaughan being radical. I want to see him taking hold of the government and giving it a shake-up.

“It’s become far too complacent, thinks it’s unchallengeable and isn’t motivated by a desire to deliver real change.

“He’s been elected in controversial circumstances, and will never live down the fact that he won because he accepted donations totalling £200k from a businessman convicted twice of pollution offences.

“But he could show a very clear sense of purpose and where he wants to go. There’s been none of that.

“He should be prepared to take risks, instead of just carrying on with no change. There’s not been a positive relationship between the Welsh Government and the people of Wales for years – look at the disastrous way the 20mph default speed limit was handled. People feel the Welsh Government has become too preachy.

“But there is also a tendency to park problems instead of tackling them. The easy option – and one taken too often – is to set up a committee of some kind, wait for it to report and then fail to implement its recommendations, rendering the whole exercise a waste of time. We need less talk and more action.”

Keir Starmer

On Mr Gething’s relationship with Keir Starmer, the Welsh Labour source said: “There’s nothing wrong with having good relations with the UK Labour leader. But the relationship should be based on equality and respect.

“At the moment Vaughan is going up to London to see him. The point should be made that trains between London and Cardiff run in both directions and that Starmer should come to Wales for some of these meetings. I’m not sure he has ever been to the Senedd.”

Vaughan Gething could surprise us all by announcing a range of measures aimed at improving public services in Wales together with a list of measurable objectives that we can judge his government’s performance by.

Alternatively he could carry on blaming the Tories for everything that falls short of expectations, both before and after the general election.

It doesn’t take much astuteness to work out which option is the more likely.


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adrian savill
adrian savill
1 month ago

Hir yw pob aros

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

So Clark Kent remains stuck in his phone box and Moses is still on the mountain…

and the pylons march on…

he could say no and insist they go underground, put the country first and chase away the carpet baggers, for a start…

or does the energy industry really own him?

David
David
1 month ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Follow the thick brown envelopes!

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
1 month ago

I wouldn’t hold your breath Martin. Starmer & Reeves continue to peddle that economic growth line in a way that suggests they think we’re all stupid. The previous Labour leader, upon whose policies Starmer promised to remain true had a clearer idea about how to get the economy going, especially where it matters most, with moderate, socially democratic policies that relied on spending, from taxes raised on those who can easily afford to pay them, (the super rich and the global corporations) which then went on to grow the economy. There is no way in the world that the economy… Read more »

Caradoc
Caradoc
1 month ago

Martin, it is time for Plaid Cymru to put the focus on Wales instead of itself.

Just been listening to this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmlvOJIGu9E

I am totally depressed. “Y Gymraes” said Golwg in its sycophantic article. “iechyd da”, I say.

It’s over.

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago
Reply to  Caradoc

Plaid are pressing any old self destruct button they can get their fingers onto.

Caradoc
Caradoc
1 month ago
Reply to  hdavies15

If you want a good laugh, see this:

https://www.itv.com/news/wales/2024-03-21/youngest-ever-life-peer-to-take-her-seat-in-lords

Baroness Smith, Plaid Cymru’s sole rep in the House of Lords (after the election) has sworn allegiance to King Charles and “his hairs”.

As for her Welsh pronunciation, pity that somebody had not taught her how to say “yn ddiffuant ac yn ddidwyll”.

Two Welsh words that can no longer be associated with Plaid Cymru. Plaid y Twp.

Mike Owen
Mike Owen
1 month ago

When Labour are in gov’t at Westminster – which will happen – and things go pear shaped sooner or later, the probelm for Vaughan Gething is who will he blame then for Wales’s desperate situation under Labour?

Maesglas
Maesglas
1 month ago

Gethin is the least inspiring of the First Ministers we have had to date. Furthermore, he lacks a sense of purpose as a Welsh FM. It’s not only that he doesn’t speak Welsh but shows no real interest in Wales—that should worry us all. He gives the impression of going through the motions – saying what he thinks will go down well with Starmer. He is bereft of ideas and, I fear, that unless he appears to stand for something, he will give more encouragement to the Senedd abolitionists, such as UKIP and Reform UK, who will say what is… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  Maesglas

It’s a pity Wrecsam beat Welsh Gov to Ryan and Robbie…

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
1 month ago

There is nothing, as far as I can tell, in Gethings (or any of his teams) track record to suggest Wales has a positive future right now. The impression I get is of incompetence, laziness, vagueness and a lack of care or ideas. Not a good look, no inspiration.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

Vaughan should return to Aber, stand on the entrance steps of the Uni and gaze out on the Bay (not that old dock of another bay) and listen to his heart…

Maybe he could do a refresher in Hanes Cymru while he is there…

He is a phenomenon and no mistake, I truly hope he rises to the challenge…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Silly me!

Lawyers make the worst historians and solicitors make the worst politicians…

PeterC
PeterC
1 month ago

Gething only had one ambition- become Welsh Leader. He had no idea or the competence as to what he would do once he achieved that ambition. He is a placeman with no talent, no strategy for government and no idea as to what he should do to improve the well being of all the people of Wales. He is backed up by a team of second rate nonentities who are equally bereft of ideas. Time will eventually catch up with him and hopefully the electorate will realise what an incompetent he is

Caradoc
Caradoc
1 month ago
Reply to  PeterC

That’s enough about Rhun ab Iorwerth. What about Vaughan Gething?

The electorate will soon realise that what they have is Hobson’s Choice.

Fct
Fct
1 month ago

Labour, will kill the country, the house sale tells all, we don’t have a party, that puts the people first, Wales will suffer.

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