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Opinion

Under the spotlight

02 May 2024 4 minute read
Jane Hutt fends off criticism of the conduct of the First Minster, after he was a no-show for the bulk of two Senedd debates about the fallout from the donations scandal.

Ben Wildsmith

Donald Trump famously observed that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and his poll ratings would only go up.

In Wales we have a rather different situation; our politicians could rampage through Roald Dahl Plass, laying waste to the citizenry and it wouldn’t make the UK press unless the Duchess of Sussex happened to be visiting at the time.

So, it is ominous for the First Minister that disquiet around his campaign donations has, eventually, found its way into The Guardian.

A ‘senior Labour figure’ – anyone up for a sweepstake? – has disclosed that Keir Starmer’s office is ‘very concerned’. Gosh, that’s flattering, isn’t it? Imagine someone in Sir Keir Starmer’s office knowing what goes on round here!

It’s probably the bloke in charge of ironing union flags but still, this is unprecedented attention for us. Well done, Vaughan!

Attitude

If an uncomfortable conversation with Starmer is on the cards, it would be interesting to observe Mr. Gething’s attitude. His Senedd exchanges of late have been redolent of Charles I, tetchily outraged that the great unwashed might question their natural superior.

The affably collegiate atmosphere of Cardiff Bay is, however, a world away from Westminster. If the First Minister is perceived as a negative in the upcoming general election, he can expect the Goodfellas treatment.

It’s all so lowering, isn’t it? Questionable behaviour is nothing new in politics, and neither is it confined to cartoon Tory villains. We are usually, however, entitled to expect a few months of best-behaviour from our masters when they assume office.

For a while, they should at least look as if they want us to believe they are honest. Gething’s ‘politics is expensive’ remark was dismissive in the tradition of Marie Antoinette. So is food, and gas, and council tax, Vaughan. You do remember who is paying for all this, right?

Peanuts

In the scheme of things, a couple of hundred grand is peanuts, especially when weighed against the fortunes diverted by Westminster during the pandemic, and more generally to government-friendly companies over the last few years.

A rotten prawn stinks out the house as badly as a haddock, though, and for this odour to be clinging to the First Minister from day one is bad for a democracy that commands little enough respect as it is.

The tuppeny-halfpenny nature of this controversy is no mitigation of its severity. Rather, it is a warning of how vulnerable Welsh politics would be to bad actors who know what they are doing. When Adam Price floated codifying political honesty this week, he warned that Wales was not immune from ‘post-truth’ politicians.

We have seen Andrew RT Davies’ creative narratives sweep across social media in recent years.

You are never far from someone who is convinced that the Welsh Government is paying all asylum seekers a king’s ransom every week, for instance.

Bluster

His bluster is containable, though, and voiced from a position of electoral irrelevance.

The problem will come if an incoming Labour government in Westminster is unpopular in Wales.

Given the economic and social conditions it will inherit, this seems like a near certainty to me.

In those circumstances, voters will be vulnerable to organised liars with simplistic solutions. We are yet to contend with an accomplished, homegrown Farage or Trump, and nativism is at the heart of any grifter’s appeal.

Welsh politics generally, and Labour in particular, should not assume that the cosiness of its position is any protection against the tumult of years to come.

Only through rigorous and unsparing insistence on honesty and transparency can we defend our democracy against those who would subvert it. The wider world is watching now, what will it see?


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Annibendod
Annibendod
23 days ago

Just like the “Good Chaps” conventions at Westminster ain’t worth the paper they ain’t written on. Part of the constitutional reform of Britain (which includes statehood for its constituent nations and PR) are codified constitutions and powerful independent bodies by which politicians can be held to high standards of probity in public life. Failure to meet said standards must result in ejecting representatives from public office and a suitable length of banishment. Just like dishonest folk are banned from being directors of businesses.

Last edited 23 days ago by Annibendod
Cwm Rhondda
Cwm Rhondda
23 days ago

A Welsh Labour politician with their nose in the trough I don’t believe it. Well, actually I do believe it, its been the Labour party’s modus operandi in the Valleys for the best part of a century.

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