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Opinion

The coming Welsh Labour leadership election must not be dominated by identity politics

05 Nov 2023 7 minute read
Then Health Minister Vaughan Gething conducting a press conference during the Covid pandemic

Martin Shipton

As I feared, an attempt is underway to make identity politics the focus of the next Welsh Labour leadership election.

This became obvious to me the other day when an article clearly intended to promote the candidacy of Vaughan Gething was published by The Guardian.

The left-leaning paper has an excellent Bristol-based reporter writing about Wales and much of the south west of England called Steven Morris. Despite having a ridiculously large patch to cover, Steven understands the politics of devolved Wales and often writes articles that are informative and insightful.

It wasn’t Steven, however, who wrote the Guardian piece about Mr Gething. Instead it was written by Aletha Adu, a London-based political reporter. The headline on her article read: “Welsh Labour’s Vaughan Gething – ‘It’s not about being black, it’s about being good at what you do’.” Yet the words themselves are belied by the context. If Mr Gething wasn’t black, the fact is that the article wouldn’t have been written.

The sub-heading on the article stated: “First black minister in devolved administration and only black Senedd member wants party ‘that reflects Britain as it is today’. The implication is surely that more black ministers and Senedd members are required to fulfil such an aim.

Someone had been spinning to the Guardian reporter, who rather incoherently stated in her article: “At the last Senedd election in 2021, he [Mr Gething] won the biggest majority of seats under the unique circumstances of the pandemic.” This makes it sound as if Vaughan Gething himself was responsible for Welsh Labour’s success at the 2021 election. Not only was First Minister Mark Drakeford airbrushed out of the picture, but the statistical assertion was factually incorrect (Welsh Labour won 30 of the 60 seats, not “the biggest majority” – and not for the first time).

Outlandish

The claims relating to Mr Gething became more outlandish as the Guardian piece progressed: “Gething was thrust into the spotlight during the Covid pandemic. Delivering daily Covid briefings, he quickly became one of the most popular UK politicians.” There is no polling evidence to support this claim, and I’m pretty sure the consensus view would be that it was Mr Drakeford’s profile that was raised in Wales and across the UK as a whole as a result of pandemic briefings, rather than Mr Gething’s.

The final paragraph of the Guardian article could be read as a mini-masterclass in disingenuousness: “Proud of Welsh Labour’s ability to avoid bitter internal fights, it would be surprising for Gething to not want to one day take the helm of the devolved administration. But he insists: ‘It’s very clear there’s not a vacancy at the moment. I’m not getting drawn into this as we’ve got a job to do. I’m certainly not going to go out and set hares running that risk undermining the First Minister’.”

Everybody but the Guardian reporter is aware that, on the contrary, a vacancy in the First Minister’s office is eagerly anticipated, Mr Drakeford having confirmed that he will be stepping down well in advance of the next Senedd election in 2026. Everyone who follows Welsh politics and has a smattering of knowledge is fully aware that Mr Gething intends to stand for the leadership again, following his better than expected result as runner-up last time. And as if to confirm that the Guardian piece is part of a carefully coordinated campaign to present him as a leader in waiting, a number of Welsh Labour MSs and MPs reposted it with accompanying praise.

Readers who look no further are left with the not so subliminal message that Vaughan Gething’s success in the next Welsh Labour leadership election would be a triumph for diversity and the notion of an inclusive Britain.

Shallow

Yet the message is shallow and lacks rigour. Politicians standing for leadership roles should be judged not as representatives of prescribed identity groups, but on the basis of what they have achieved and – in the case of ministers – how they have performed in office.

In its wish to portray Mr Gething as a credible future First Minister, the Guardian piece conveys the message that he had a good pandemic and that he enjoys popular support. No mention whatever is made of his woeful performance at the UK Covid Inquiry, at which he nonchalantly admitted when giving evidence that he hadn’t, as Health Minister, read crucial documents about how to prepare for a pandemic. As the Inquiry progresses, further light will inevitably be shone among other errors of judgement on mistakes that resulted in the deaths of people in Welsh care homes. Yet the message coming from Mr Gething’s camp is that matters of this magnitude should be ignored and that party members should rally behind a leadership candidate whose election would validate Labour’s diversity credentials.

The people of Wales deserve better than this. We need a leader elected on merit and not because they may tick one or more intersectional boxes.

The likelihood is that whoever succeeds Mark Drakeford as First Minister will find their administration dealing with a Labour government at Westminster. In at least one respect, this could see a return to the dynamic that existed at what was the National Assembly between 1999 and 2010, when there were Labour-led governments in both London and Cardiff.

Rhodri Morgan, whose senior special adviser for part of the time was a social policy professor on loan from Cardiff University called Mark Drakeford, created “clear red water” between the government he led and that of Tony Blair in Westminster. In practical terms, that meant keeping the public sector more public than was the case in England, where Blair and his ministers were more inclined to involve the private sector in education and the health service.

Mark Drakeford, who is on the left of the Labour Party, has largely pursued the same course since he took over as First Minister in 2018.

Progress

Vaughan Gething is on the right of the party and has been happy to be associated with Progressive Britain, formerly known as Progress, which espouses policy positions that at one time would have been seen as Blairite or “New Labour”, both of which terms are no longer considered appropriate. Progressive Britain supports the position of Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, who has been strident in his advocacy of a greater role for private companies in the delivery of healthcare within the NHS.

Where does Mr Gething stand on such issues? Will he – and for that matter other leadership candidates – set out a clear policy programme of what they hope to deliver and how they hope to deliver it, or will people get so excited at the prospect of having a black First Minister that questions of that kind simply won’t properly be addressed?

The swift endorsement of a poorly written, hagiographical article about Mr Gething by Welsh Labour politicians who may – or may not – have been promised ministerial posts in a future administration led by him does not bode well for the kind of rigorous, ideological leadership campaign that Welsh Labour and Wales deserve.


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Dai
Dai
6 months ago

Great article da iawn

Sioned
Sioned
6 months ago

Vaughan Gethin is on the right of the so called LABOUR party and this is bad news.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
6 months ago
Reply to  Sioned

This basically means he’s a TORY. We should beware…

Last edited 6 months ago by Padi Phillips
TomTom82
TomTom82
6 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

If Vaughan Gething is your idea of a Tory, I dread to think what you think Sunnak is. Hitler probably.

TomTom82
TomTom82
6 months ago
Reply to  Sioned

Why is that exactly? I would call the current government right wing. And they are awful. The previous government was left wing and they were even worse.

Annibendod
Annibendod
6 months ago

Diolch Martin. I’ve written previously here on how Vaughan is viewed by pro indy members of the Labour party. This article is really affirmation of who Gething is and what he represents – Labour’s right exerting central control. No surprise that a Socialist like Drakeford would be deleted by their ficticious little narrative. It’s curious – apparently Brown’s constitutional review was exploring federalism which was supposedly why it had the House of Lords reform as part of it. This makes far more sense than the standalone proposal that finally got squeezed out. Now even that has been abandoned – I… Read more »

Richard E
Richard E
6 months ago

Who ever Labour in Wales ( LIW ) pick is of course for them and no one else.

The LIW members will of course need to find a person who knows and understands all of Wales….not just the Cardiff Bay elite.

A person sympathetic to rural and Valley Wales and who can involve the renogade local members in Wrexham and Deeside.

A person with demstrated track record of support for the languages and cultures of our nation.

A difficult task 🤔

Glwyo
Glwyo
6 months ago

> ‘that reflects Britain as it is today’

This statement alone distills the blindness of culture war participants. For they apparently aspire to a Senedd that is 90% English and 5% Cymreig (well they would if they aspired to anything at all besides power, but we all know this is as theatrical as the Tory’s anti-woke posturing)

Geraint
Geraint
6 months ago

This article highlights another issue. The Welsh press and political coverage is so poor that without Nation.Cymru very little would be shared with the Welsh electorate about policy positions that our elected members hold.

hdavies15
hdavies15
6 months ago

Bad enough having Anglo Brit domination from Westminster H.Q. When the MSM wade in with their jaundiced false pictures then you know there’s serious manipulation under way. The only way Labour will change its view of Wales is after a Senedd election where they get dumped. The presumption of assimilation secured needs to be trashed.

Mawkernewek
Mawkernewek
6 months ago

In your last paragraph are you suggesting that Labour politicians wrote a hagiographic article and then had it published under the name of a Guardian writer or is that too much of a conspiracy theory to be supported by the evidence?

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
6 months ago

The best thing a Mr Starmer government can do for us is to give us our independent Welsh nation. Scotland was given the chance of independence through the 2014 referendum bill as demanded by the Liberal democrats as part of the coalition agreement. Unfortunately, Scotland blew it. They believed Gordon Brown’s Labour. Wales must never make the same mistake. Our best chance of a referendum is the Liberal democrats becoming part of the next UK government and Plaid Cymru to gain more MPs to push the agrument for independence. Labour are just willing for the people of Wales to continue… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
6 months ago

The problem with that is Plaid Cymru… How on earth do you propose to make them electable to the point they could form a majority and form a government?

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
6 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

The real problem is we have very few media outlets based in Wales that will present the issues affecting the people of Wales. You know, the Liberal Democrats say they have the same problem not just in Wales but also over the border in England. Since the SNP are the 3rd party in HoC seats they get TV time but only in Scotland. Since in Wales we effectively only have the BBC it is mainly Labour & Tory issues get covered in detail. It doesn’t help with the coalition agreement when Labour claims Plaid Cymru initiatives as their own. If… Read more »

Annibendod
Annibendod
6 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Pro-indy Labour members and activists should join Plaid and bring their attributes with them. Plaid needs members, folk with political nous and knowhow. Welsh Statists are wasted in Labour. They’d do far more good in Plaid.

Maesglas
Maesglas
6 months ago

This is a good article that shows how very mediocre politicians can sometimes get glowing commendations if they happen to be in the Labour Party. Gethin is a politician who, like Starmer, is bereft of ideas and more than happy to tick-box the status quo if he gets power. This man has no credible ideas for taking Wales forward at a time when our country is crying out for change.

Dewi Evans
Dewi Evans
6 months ago

I can’t recall Vaughan Gethin making any decision that had a positive effect on health in Wales when he was the Health Secretary.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
6 months ago

Really good article outlining the problems with identity politics and its impact on political choices. The Leader of ‘Welsh Labour should be chosen on merit not on their identity with particular groups. In my opinion Gething is no leader, I have seen nothing to suggest he is a man of vision and ideas on how to take Wales forward. He could be the ideal ‘yes’ man in Wales working on behalf of Starmer, full stop. Sadly I don’t see any current serving member of the Senedd as a suitable first minister either but with the exception of one or two… Read more »

robin campbell
robin campbell
6 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

Starmer has got him lined up. No doubt.

Roy Dolan
Roy Dolan
6 months ago
Reply to  robin campbell

If so God help us

Twffr
Twffr
6 months ago

It is a shame the opinion writer has wasted his wealth of experience throwing tittle-tattle about. His easy dismissal of identity politics perhaps shows he doesn’t understand the subject.

David Zenati-Parsons
David Zenati-Parsons
6 months ago

Vaughn a good guy but for me Eluned Morgan is the perfect leader for Wales, she has big idea’s she is an internationalist, she believes in us the people of Wales and she is clever having gained a scholarship to UWC Atlantic an elite school here in Wales.

taff
taff
6 months ago

An elite school in Wales?

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