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Opinion

The nightmare scenario for Welsh Labour – and how to avoid it

08 Jun 2024 7 minute read
Vaughan Gething (centre) after losing the vote of no confidence in him at the Senedd. Photo Senedd TV/PA Wire

Martin Shipton

The Labour Party’s decision to keep supporting Vaughan Gething is undoubtedly doing it harm, and if it carries on doing so it will risk losing its status as the largest party in Wales.

This may seem a bold claim at a time when Labour is riding high in the general election polls and predictions are being made about the possibility of a wipe-out of Welsh Tory MPs.

But the YouGov poll this week that put Plaid Cymru just seven points behind Labour in a Senedd election indicates that people in Wales are increasingly prepared to vote differentially when they have a grievance.

We have polling evidence that Mr Gething’s decision to accept £200,000 from a convicted criminal has gone down very badly with the Welsh public. His reaction to that has simply made matters worse.

His instinctive arrogance, his narcissism and the way he surrounds himself with people who will bolster his sense of entitlement rather than tell him hard truths are factors that foster his apparent inability to recognise the damage that is being done to him personally, Welsh Labour and Wales’ political sphere.

Discreditable behaviour

People who have been only marginally interested in Welsh politics at best are now talking openly in pubs and on buses about Mr Gething’s discreditable behaviour. And every time he or his supporters seek to diminish the significance of what he has done, they make the hole he is in deeper.

The poll showing that the gap between Labour and Plaid Cymru is narrowing has to be taken seriously.

Yet while the majority of the Senedd Labour group understand the extent of the problem, they have not yet reached a position where they are prepared to take decisive action.

The non-event of Friday’s group meeting, where the implications of the no confidence motion passed in Mr Gething were not even discussed, illustrates that perfectly.

Any thought anyone has that the problem is going to go away is illusory. There are more revelations to come that will make Mr Gething’s position even more untenable.

But let’s imagine that he is still in office at the time of the next Senedd election in May 2026. By then a Starmer government will have been in power for close on two years. After 14 years of decline under the Conservatives thanks to misguided austerity policies and Brexit, people are feeling worse off.

They want their economic circumstances to be transformed for the better. Yet the unambitious programme being put forward by Starmer and Reeves is highly unlikely to deliver on people’s expectations.

High point

The general election performance from Labour on July 4 will be a high point. If Mr Gething leads Labour into the Senedd election, he will be seen by many voters as the personification of a party that has disappointed them not only economically, but whose claims of moral superiority over the Tories are laughable.

With a new electoral system in place that will make tactical voting obsolete, people who have previously opted for Labour because voting for another party might let the Conservatives in need fear such an outcome no longer.

How many times in the past have Labour candidates in Tory-Labour marginal seats appealed to supporters of Plaid and other parties to “lend me your vote on this occasion”?

In the future, such appeals will fall on deaf ears.

So what might the electoral outcome be in 2026 if Mr Gething remains the First Minister?

Instability

Rachel Reeves is promising “stability”. Mr Gething can only offer instability. The change to a wholly proportional voting system will make it even more difficult for Labour to win an overall majority – something, of course, that the party has never managed to achieve under the hybrid system we have had up to now.

Even if Labour remains the biggest party after the election, it will undoubtedly have to rely on support from elsewhere to form a government. Having voted against Mr Gething in a no confidence motion, how likely is it that Plaid Cymru would come to his rescue? The terse but obvious answer is “no chance”.

Labour has been in government ever since what was initially the National Assembly was established in 1999. But after the 2007 election, when Labour did badly, the opposition parties came very close to forming a so-called rainbow coalition that would have ousted Labour from power.

In fact, it was only serendipity that prevented such an outcome. One evening, there was a crucial meeting of a Welsh Liberal Democrat committee taking place in Powys. If the committee voted for the rainbow coalition deal, Labour would have been out of government.

Together with a small number of other journalists I was at First Minister Rhodri Morgan’s house in the Vale of Glamorgan, drinking beer and eating ordered-in pizza as we speculated on what the outcome of the meeting might be.

Rhodri had no better idea than the rest of us about what would happen, but he was prepared for the possibility of Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones becoming First Minister of a rainbow government that included Plaid, Tory and Lib Dem ministers.

That didn’t seem an outlandish prospect, as it certainly does now.

Sleaze

It would be difficult to imagine Plaid Cymru being prepared to go into coalition with a party whose Westminster branch had presided over so many years of austerity and sleaze. But in 2007 we had a Labour Westminster government that had lost popularity because of the Iraq war and other factors, and the Welsh Tories didn’t seem quite so toxic, especially under the emollient leadership of Nick Bourne.

However, eventually, after the umpteenth slice of pizza, the news came through that the Lib Dems had rejected the rainbow coalition on the casting vote of the Chair, as I recall.

The deal was off and Rhodri Morgan shortly afterwards concluded negotiations for a coalition with Plaid, with him continuing as First Minister and Ieuan Wyn Jones as his deputy.

Throughout the 14 Tory years that are now drawing to a close, it’s seemed inconceivable that Plaid would enter a coalition with the Welsh Tories.

Yet I’ve just been told of an idea that was apparently being kicked around after Adam Price became Plaid’s leader in 2018.

Even in the most optimistic scenario, Plaid would at the very least have required the consent of the Welsh Conservative group to have been able to form an administration. My source has told me that one option would have been to invite individual “One Nation” Tory MSs to become ministers in a Plaid-led government.

The names David Melding, Paul Davies, Angela Burns and Suzie Davies were mentioned in this context.

By issuing individual invitations – much as Carwyn Jones and then Mark Drakeford invited non-Labour MSs Kirsty Williams and Dafydd Elis-Thomas to join their administrations – there would not, so the reasoning went, have been the need for a formal coalition with the Tories, which had been ruled out by Plaid.

Fanciful

That in itself seems rather fanciful, but in the event, of course, nothing like that came to pass. Covid intervened and Labour did well in the 2021 election largely because of the perceived favourable contrast between Mark Drakeford and Boris Johnson over the handling of the pandemic.

Besides which, only Paul Davies of the four mooted Tory ministers remained in the Senedd after the election.

Nevertheless, the dynamic will have changed again by the time of the next Senedd election in 2026.

Labour will be in power at Westminster, so the perennial excuse of blaming everything that goes wrong on the Tory UK government will be redundant. The buck will stop with Keir Starmer in London and Vaughan Gething in Cardiff.

For any Senedd deal to work between Plaid and the Tories, the Welsh Conservatives would have to revert to a Bourne-like centrist stance and they’d have to replace their current leader, who couldn’t cope with the compromises that would be necessary.

But with Vaughan Gething still in the First Minister’s office between now and May 2026, such a deal seems a very plausible option.

If the Labour Party wants to avoid an outcome of this kind, it knows what it has to do.


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David Zenati-Parsons
David Zenati-Parsons
8 days ago

Confession, I am a Labour member, I voted for Vaughn and sadly I agree that he needs to go. The Tories do worse things but that is not the issue, Labour must be better and the same clearly applies to Plaid through their actions and deeds as well. We are Welsh and live to a better standard.

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
8 days ago

It’s an interesting scenario for 2026, a Plaid and Tory partnership. However, the only way that would ever happen is if the Welsh Conservatives booted out Davies and separated themselves from the toxic central party. For those more moderate Conservatives reading this – something to think about? What would it take for your party to finally put Cymru first?

Llyn
Llyn
8 days ago
Reply to  Steve A Duggan

As the Tories plan to attack devolution by abolishing the 20mph law in Wales no Plaid Tory coalition can happen.

Daf
Daf
8 days ago

The only reason Gething is still in charge is because there is a General Election coming up. If Gething went now – before July 4th – it would be hugely damaging for Labour central. The only Labour run nation in the UK, in chaos, with a Labour leader resigning because of a row over dodgy donations? (a donation which broke no rules – which just makes the general public think that the rule of government are corrupt as well). Opposition would have a field day. Make no mistake – after the General Election is over, Gething is toast. Voters might… Read more »

SundanceKid
SundanceKid
7 days ago
Reply to  Daf

I doubt it. Gething will stay on after the election for the simple reason that he and Starmer are out of touch with the Welsh public and cannot grasp – or understand – the strength of feeling on this issue. Furthermore, Starmer’s selection process of Welsh Labour candidates demonstrates that he values those who are likely to be “loyal” and a parliamentary “asset” to the party above those who will put the interests of their constituency first, which is why several local candidates have been overlooked. Gething is compliant and is loyal to Starmer and the Labour party above and… Read more »

Last edited 7 days ago by SundanceKid
David Thomas
David Thomas
8 days ago

Do Lee Waters and Hannah Blythyn have the courage to return to the Senedd as Independent MSs?

Crwtyn Cemais
Crwtyn Cemais
7 days ago
Reply to  David Thomas

Neu, os na ymddiswyddiff V.G. yn syth ar ol yr Etholiad Cyffredinol, yna ‘croesi’r llawr’ i ymuno a Phlaid Cymru…tybed? ~ Or, if V.G does not resign immediately after the General Election, ‘cross the floor’ to join Plaid Cymru…? Stranger things…etc;

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
8 days ago

I want to see an independent Cymru and, obviously, Plaid Cymru is the only political party offering independence so has my support.

If there was even a hint that they would form a coalition with the tories that would precipitate the permanent end of my support!

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
8 days ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

It’s very possible there’ll be few Tory MSs to actually form a coalition with.

Geraint
Geraint
8 days ago
Reply to  Rhosddu

A Pliad-Tory coalition would last one term before the nationalists are finished off for a good long while at the ballot box. Just ask the Lib Dems.

Rob
Rob
7 days ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

It depends. Under the current crop of Conservatives then I agree absolutely not. However if they were to revert back to the way they were under Nick Bourne and David Melding (ie pro-Wales, and pro-devolution) then I don’t think it would be such a bad thing. 30 years of Welsh Labour dominance is allowing them to be out of touch with the Welsh electorate.

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
2 days ago
Reply to  Rob

Rob, Let’s not think about it – The Tories are toxic.

Build support for Plaid Cymru for the next and future elections.
Independence is our only future and Plaid Cymru is the only opposition party
that can gain support and win elections throughout Wales to achieve our future.

Are we all on board ? …. It’s our country our future.

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
2 days ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

Don’t worry, there is not a micro possibility that Plaid Cymru will enter a coalition with the Tories or any other far right party – particularly as a junior partner.

The Tories cannot be trusted, as the Liberal democrats experienced in the 2010-2015 coalition which set back liberal democracy and led to this toxic political atmosphere in the UK.

For that reason Plaid Cymru have ruled out any coalition or any pact with these radical or far right wing parties; and so have the Liberal Democrats and Green Party.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
8 days ago

The nightmare scenario, besides Vaughan Gething remaining as First Minister, is another 5 years of a Welsh Labour rule in government. Imagine, in 2026 the Conservatives in Wales will face similar predicament as they did in 1997 where they were wiped out at Westminster but gained an undeserved foothold thanks to devolution, the very same institution they campaigned with so much venom to abolish in 1997 that gave them a voice. And in 2026 Welsh Labour will go into that election by reaching an unfortunate milestone of 27 years in power. And god forbid they win another term in office… Read more »

John Ellis
John Ellis
8 days ago

When Welsh Labour chose Mark Drakeford as party leader and, ipso facto, propelled him into the role of first minister, I confess that my heart sank because I thought he’d be a dead loss. His previous roles in government had hardly set the Cymric ‘house on fire’, and I thought that he’d turn out to be dreary, plodding, pedestrian and without inspiration. As things turned out, I came to realize that I’d been quite wrong: I didn’t always agree with him, but over time it became obvious to me – particularly in the context of the response to the pandemic… Read more »

John Ellis
John Ellis
7 days ago

‘But the YouGov poll this week that put Plaid Cymru just seven points behind Labour in a Senedd election indicates that people in Wales are increasingly prepared to vote differentially when they have a grievance.’ Welsh Labour clearly need to reflect on the apparent implications of this statistic in the context of the fact that Labour support across the UK as a whole still seems to be soaring. The moral surely is that if you find yourself in a hole the worst thing that you can do is to continue digging, which is what Welsh Labour under Mr Gething’s leadership… Read more »

Last edited 7 days ago by John Ellis
Linda Jones
Linda Jones
7 days ago
Reply to  John Ellis

I suspect the polls reflect a more anti tory mood than a pro labour one. Starmer is not popular

Swn Y Mor
Swn Y Mor
7 days ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

After the recent votes in England, Starmer supporters were hailing the results. However after the euphoria calmed down on closer inspection there was a collapse in the Conservative vote . Voters were not flocking to Labour. In one areas I believe he got less votes than Jeremy Corbyn.

John Ellis
John Ellis
7 days ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

I agree – I too sense that’s the case.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
7 days ago

Labour has lost its way, more tory than traditional labour and that includes the Welsh branch. Our Labour MPs do nothing to fight the great robbery of Wales by Westminster and England neither do those in the Senedd. We need a party of and for Wales. Plaid is the only answer

Howie
Howie
7 days ago

The Labour party might have made Gething leader but he is elected to FM position by Senedd and Senedd have now reversed that decision by having no confidence in him, time to go, damage is being done to Labour in Wales and politics in Wales.
Listening to Skates defending him by saying we have to make sure Labour is elected to UK govt is an affront to governance in Wales. He should be working to deliver for Welsh people.

Tim Hughes
Tim Hughes
7 days ago

It’s Sunday morning and he’s still in charge, it’s unbelievable

John Ellis
John Ellis
7 days ago

A very dubious bit exceedingly wealthy individual donated a huge sum of money to the UK Conservative party’s funds, and various Tory luminaries piously deplore his sentiments. But nonetheless the Conservative party still not only hangs on to the money, but also accepts a further large donation from him. The new leader of Welsh Labour accepted a smaller but nonetheless very significant donation from an equally dubious and very wealthy individual to fund his leadership bid, and, despite the inevitable resultant criticism, refuses to accept that he might have acted … well, at least imprudently. Maybe someone on this thread… Read more »

SundanceKid
SundanceKid
7 days ago

I sincerely hope that Plaid Cymru does NOT entertain another coalition deal with either the Conservatives or the Labour Party in Wales. They are in a fortunate position such as has not been seen for years, and bailing out either the Tories or Labour will not do them any favours and are indeed, likely to be seen as Westminster’s lap dogs. I understand that the co-operative agreement was largely successful and seen by many in the party as essential to help ease the housing crisis and gelping to alleviate the effects of child poverty by introducing free school meals. However,… Read more »

Last edited 7 days ago by SundanceKid
Y Cymro
Y Cymro
5 days ago

The nightmare scenario is another 2 years of Vaughan Gething as First Minister, and the milestone , or millstone, that in 2026 if they win the next Senedd election will mean another term in office and by 2032 would mean 31 years as Welsh Government. For Wales it’s all Labour pains and no gain. Where’s the epidural, hammer, anything? 😖

Paul
Paul
4 days ago

Let’s keep a sense of perspective. Tories have been given over £15 million by someone who wants to shoot a black Labour mp and Gething has had 200k for which the donator has seen no material advantage. For Shipton to talk about Gething’s sense of privilege and narcissism and his constant criticism of Gething strikes me as no more tha racism. It is as if if thinks a black man show know his place and that is not as First Minister

Bob
Bob
5 hours ago

Vaughn Gething has not performed well in government he has been responsible for Health and Commerce portfolios and was a key member of the disastrous Drakeford Administration.Wales is really lagging behind in the UK and Labour here must accept most of the responsibility.A change is probably needed in Britain overall because the Conservatives have also been in power too long in the UK and Welsh voters should realise Labour has been in control far too long in Wales.Health,Education, Business, Farming, Transport etc. We need to start voting for the best candidates, not just those with a red rosette.I am from… Read more »

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