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Opinion

Vaughan Gething’s time will be up when Labour sees him as an electoral liability

28 Apr 2024 7 minute read
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (right) and Vaughan Gething during a visit to the Port of Holyhead, Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Martin Shipton

Ironically, Vaughan Gething’s victory in the Welsh Labour leadership election is likely to shorten his political career rather than prolong it.

What will remove him from office will be the dawning perception among those who control the party that he is an electoral liability rather than an asset.

They haven’t got there yet, but the signs are pointing in that direction. When asked about the First Minister’s dodgy donations at a think tank seminar on political ethics – another irony! – Shadow Cabinet member and Torfaen MP Nick Thomas-Symonds resorted to the default defence: that Mr Gething hadn’t broken any rules.

But even Mr Thomas-Symonds will be aware that his response wasn’t any more convincing than the words of a football club director who says a doomed manager’s job is safe.

Wobbling

There’s no doubt that Mr Gething is wobbling in front of the metaphorical precipice. The question is what will tip him over the edge. It’s not a simple picture. When considering the Labour Party one always has to be aware that for many members – elected as well as grassroots – loyalty to the party is the predominant motivating factor. For some, it has an almost religious hold. It only takes a slight adjustment to alter the old patriotic rallying cry “my country, right or wrong” to “my party right or wrong”.

This is something that Mr Gething and his entourage are happy to exploit.

There’s no doubt, however, that the loyalty is being stretched. One party insider described the feelings of the Senedd group towards their unwanted leader, much of which could be intuited from the sullen lack of verbal support they gave him as he was being challenged by opposition MSs about the £400k Development Bank of Wales loan given to the criminal donor who bankrolled his leadership campaign.

The insider told me: “It’s significant that Jeremy Miles said he wouldn’t have accepted the tainted donations and that Ken Skates – who was arguably Vaughan’s most vocal supporter during the leadership campaign – made a point of distancing himself from the donor’s criminal convictions.

“Most of the Senedd group never supported Vaughan, and the attitude of the majority is a combination of frustration, anger, disappointment and embarrassment. They’d like the scandal to just go away.

“Many haven’t yet come to terms with the seriousness of it. We’re now 25 years into devolution and until now we haven’t had a major financial scandal focussed on one of our politicians.”

Asked what it would take to force Mr Gething out, the party insider said: “There has to be a catalyst. He was hoping that the fuss would die down by announcing that Carwyn Jones would look at the issue of political donations to the party and that he’d report back in the autumn. That hasn’t happened and the uproar continues.

“The fact is, also, that Carwyn won’t be examining the dodgy donations in detail – his role is to make recommendations about whether there should be changes to the acceptability of donations in future leadership elections. You don’t have to have the most astute political brain to work out that he’ll say the overall cap on donations should be lowered.

“It’s pretty clear that if this scandal had happened at Westminster or in Scotland Vaughan would have gone by now because of the UK-wide publicity it would have attracted. Unfortunately Wales is seen as of marginal interest at best by most of the London-based media.”

Another, perhaps more cynical and jaded Labour insider, had another take: “It’s all very well looking miserable and not supporting Vaughan in the chamber or with public statements. But the fact is that ministers who have never supported him were given jobs by him, partly because of the closeness of the result.

“They didn’t turn the jobs down and they haven’t resigned to put pressure on him to go. They like the ministerial salary and being driven to and from Cardiff in a chauffeur-driven car rather than having to drive themselves or mingle with the plebs on public transport.”

Another factor to the story is the support Mr Gething has received from Welsh MPs, giving credibility to the idea that he’s Starmer’s man in Wales – a narrative I happen to agree with.

It’s been suggested to me by another Labour source that a deal was done between Mr Gething and the MPs that, in return for their backing, Welsh Labour would not seriously press for more powers to be devolved to the Senedd under his leadership.

There’s always been a tendency for many of the Welsh MPs to be lukewarm about devolution, on the basis that the more powers the Senedd has, the less power they are able to exert from Westminster.

For much the same reason, the MPs are said to be relaxed about the multi-member super-constituencies that will come into being for Senedd elections from 2026. The MPs will no longer have rivals at the Senedd who can lay claim to being the predominant politician in a local area.

And yet there is a limit to the support Vaughan Gething can expect, even from the Westminster wing of the party. As my first quoted Labour source says: “A month ago Vaughan was a poster boy, feted at the House of Commons by Keir Starmer and welcomed as some kind of mascot at a Shadow Cabinet meeting. Now he’s coming to be seen as an Achilles heel.”

There’s no doubt there will be pressure within the party for those unhappy following the dodgy donations scandal to set their concerns aside as Labour eyes the prize of winning the general election.

But those who take a broader view will be aware of the damage that could be caused to the party’s reputation as it tries to portray itself as more fit to govern at Westminster than the Tories.

Conservative MPs are already quoting Gething’s donations scandal as a reason for not trusting Labour in government.

The other day Fay Jones, who represents Brecon and Radnorshire, a seat that in the recent past has been held by the Liberal Democrats, had a piece published in the London Standard headlined: “Vaughan Gething’s scandals would have him on the rack if he was a Tory like me”.

And using another line that could frame a Tory campaign narrative, a Welsh Conservative insider told me: “God help us if the Conservatives are wiped out after the election because you will not find Labourites hitting out at each other. Such an outcome would be catastrophic for Welsh democracy.”

The Labour hierarchy will not be worried by the predicament of Welsh Tories trying to save their own skins. What will concern them, however, is evidence that the electoral support for Labour is being affected negatively by Gething’s dodgy donations scandal. This week a poll from Redfield & Wilton Strategies reported a nine-point drop in Labour support in Wales.

The UK party will be keeping an eye on the polling figures.

It’s also, of course, the case that the accumulation of damaging disclosures could reach a tipping point that would make the First Minister’s resignation unavoidable, depending, of course, on how serious the latest disclosure is.

I believe that Vaughan Gething is right on the precipice with the ground beneath his feet getting more slippery by the day.


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adrian savill
adrian savill
24 days ago

never a truer word

Caradoc
Caradoc
24 days ago

Starmer, ditch the trainers mate. Nothing worse than a mature bloke trying to keep up with his grandchildren.

hdavies15
hdavies15
24 days ago
Reply to  Caradoc

Perhaps his feet were aching or the shifty bloke stood next to him nicked his best shoes !

Maesglas
Maesglas
24 days ago

The Labour hypocrites in Scotland are calling for the SNP to call an election because of their problems, but they need to look at their clan here. Gethin scraped home on a low vote largely because of Union stitch ups and dodgy donations. The most disturbing thing about the FM is the contemptuous attitude towards democracy. Labour barely has 35% vote share in elections, always ruled on that percentage and yet doesn’t think any of this matters. Furthermore, unlike his predecessors, he doesn’t speak Welsh or has much to say about Wales. Not exactly a good set of credentials for… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
24 days ago

Slippery slope or precipice…you can’t have both…

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
24 days ago

The Picture shows Laurel and Hardy.
You decide who is Stan and who is Oliver.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
24 days ago

My personal view of our First Minister history. Michael, Morgan, Jones, Drakeford, Gething. Bad, good, bad, good, bad. Good = clear red water. Bad = compliant puppet.

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
22 days ago

 ‘………deal was done between Mr Gething and the MPs that, in return for their backing, Welsh Labour would not seriously press for more powers to be devolved to the Senedd under his leadership’. That is all you need to know. Keeping Wales in the pocket of Westminster’s centralised power is the position of Labour and Conservative parties. Then there is the Labour position of the ‘party lists’ election system, designed to put the Labour machine in control of who is elected to our Senedd to represent us. Do you really want to be a colony of a dying empire with… Read more »

David Thomas
David Thomas
20 days ago

Oh you mean like the blanket 20mph speed limit. Or the cling ons voting for increasing their numbers from 60 to 96. I don’t remember voting for either.
Remember a once famous political said, if a person wants to be an elected politian they should be stopped for that very reason. England Scotland Wales and Ireland now have to many career MP’s etc etc.

Iago
Iago
17 days ago
Reply to  David Thomas

If you voted labour you voted for both. They made no secret of either.

Mike Droy
Mike Droy
14 days ago

The Cardiff Bay Club wanted Policing powers, thats a worry in itself. The Big bombshell is coming though, when the new influx of MSs arrives, and they will. We will have a tax rise, just like Scotland.

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