Support our Nation today - please donate here
Opinion

Vaughan Gething’s victory: a dangerous moment for devolution and Wales

16 Mar 2024 9 minute read
Vaughan Gething, at Cardiff University, after being elected as the next Welsh Labour leader. Photo Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Martin Shipton

The election of Vaughan Gething as Welsh Labour leader and First Minister-in-waiting represents a dangerous moment for devolution and a dangerous time for Wales.

In condoning a victory bought with tainted donations, our leading political party has brought shame upon itself as well as on Welsh democracy – a concept that now has a hollow ring.

After a series of brazenly engineered stitch-ups that have been well documented, there was a depressing inevitability about the outcome. Although the refusal of the Labour Party to release the breakdown of how party members and affiliates voted, all the indications are that the key ingredient to Mr Gething’s success was his superior access to union affiliated voters.

It seems that he was able to overhaul Mr Miles’ likely superior showing among party members by profiting from the unfair advantage he gained thanks to the nominations he received from the “Big Six” trade unions.

It’s a strange anomaly that party members are outnumbered by at least five times as many voters who belong to organisations affiliated to Labour – most of which are trade unions. The turnout was 57.8% among party members and 9.4% among affiliates (including union members). In 2018, when Mark Drakeford was elected, the respective turnout figures were 53.1% and 5.6%.

In his speech following the declaration of the result, Mr Gething shamelessly thanked the unions for their support, as well he might.

Devastated

Blaenau Gwent MS Alun Davies, who supported Mr Miles, said: “Most party members will be devastated with this result. Jeremy was the clear choice of party members. The votes of party members and affiliates would have been counted separately. And the party knows the breakdown.”

The party hasn’t, however, released the breakdown. This is a step backwards from a previous stitch-up in 1999, when Rhodri Morgan was deprived of Welsh Labour’s leadership by Alun Michael because of undemocratic union block votes.

At least on that occasion the statistics relating to the stitch-up were published.

A Labour source said: “It was so close [with Mr Gething winning by 51.7% to 48.3%]. The truth is Vaughan Gething has only won because of backing from a law-breaking donor and union stitch-ups. No one believes Welsh Labour when they claim he won both the members and the unions. Nor will they, unless a full breakdown of the votes is published.”

In other countries a situation in which a politician who received donations totalling £200k from a convicted criminal – as Mr Gething did – would likely form the subject of a criminal investigation in itself.

Here in Wales it’s not even deemed worthy of an investigation for breaches of the Ministerial Code or Senedd Members’ Code of Conduct. This represents a major failure in governance.

Tarnished

But now that the election is over and we know for sure that Mr Gething will become First Minister, the spotlight should turn to the Labour Party, whose reputation has been deeply tarnished by this travesty of an election.

The party failed to intervene at various stages of the campaign when a sense of justice and fair play should have compelled it to do so.

It should have stepped in when Mr Miles was unfairly deprived of the Unite nomination when the union’s “regional secretary” wrongly misused a union rule and insisted that he didn’t qualify for it.

The party should also have insisted on a level playing field for both candidates, with both able to send their promotional material to members of all affiliated organisations, regardless of who they had nominated.

Mr Miles’ exclusion from this created a huge advantage for Mr Gething, exacerbated by the way the party machine signposted union members to information that told them their union was backing Mr Gething, but failed to help Mr Miles in the same way.

Senior figures in the Labour Party with only a few honourable exceptions failed to call out the outrageous donations totalling £200k from the company of a businessman who had been given two suspended prison sentences for polluting a sensitive wetland landscape that the Welsh Government had saved from the building of a motorway through it.

If the size of the donations and their provenance weren’t enough to cause concern, surely Mr Gething’s written representations to Natural Resources Wales, the regulator, asking its officials to go easy on the company, ought to have raised a huge red flag.

Praise

Yet it seems the Labour Party is quite content for a leadership contender to accept huge donations from such a tainted source. Keir Starmer was full of praise for Mr Gething’s victory, saying how he looks forward to working with him. There was not a word, of course, about the dodgy donations. How hypocritical, given the way Labour’s front bench at Westminster is constantly going on about dodgy donations to the Conservative Party. No wonder that Mr Gething is seen by some as Sir Keir’s man in Wales.

It was, regrettably, a sign of weakness on the part of Mr Miles that he wasn’t prepared to criticise the dodgy donations. He had a duty, as a would-be leader, to make a clear statement on the matter.

It’s difficult to understand why he was advised to pull his punches.

It will be an embarrassing moment for Labour if Mr Gething hasn’t spent all the money he received from the convicted businessman, David Neal, and is obliged, in accordance with the rules, to hand the surplus over to the party.

Will the party itself accept the money? It certainly shouldn’t do so. My suggestion would be that it should hand the money over to environmental campaigners who stand against Mr Neal and his ilk.

Policy

Among the many people shocked by Mr Gething’s election is Nerys Lloyd-Pierce, who chairs Cardiff Civic Society. Reflecting on what it is likely to mean in policy terms, she said: “Cardiff Civic Society has watched events unfold with a heavy heart. We are deeply disturbed by Vaughan Gething’s lack of commitment to protecting the environment.

“In his manifesto he states, ‘Securing good jobs means making bold, systemic reforms to the planning system and investment framework to unlock green growth. Our government would review our planning system to give greater speed and certainty to decision making for major projects that bring good jobs to Wales – especially on renewable energy’.

“We are not opposed to renewables, but are deeply concerned about the dark undertones in this statement, given Mr.Gething’s relationship with a convicted criminal who polluted the Gwent Levels, donated a massive figure to his First Ministerial campaign, and who has submitted a planning application for a huge solar plant on the Levels.

“A minister appointed by Gething would make the decision on this application, suggesting a lack of transparency, at the very least.”

Apalled

Others appalled by Mr Gething’s victory include members of the group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru, who have been trenchant critics of his failure, as Health Minister during the pandemic, to take the urgent steps needed to protect the public.

On the day that voting in the leadership contest ended, the group’s counsel Kirsten Heaven delivered a devastating indictment of Mr Gething’s errors that had tragic consequences. Not unnaturally, members of the group find it bewildering, and an insult to their deceased loved ones, that he had the gall to promote his handling of the pandemic as a reason for voting for him.

The refusal of many Labour MSs to post messages of support for Mr Gething indicates that he is likely to face a tough time within his Senedd group, where he only has minority support. It’s among the wider population of Wales, however, that Mr Gething may face most trouble.

As the reaction on social media to his election shows, he does not have the goodwill of the people of Wales.

For many, including a lot of Labour Party members, Vaughan Gething is not a legitimate leader,and never will be.

He will be seen as someone who came to power not because he deserved it, but because of chicanery. That’s a judgement that many have already made.

Obsession

If the main opposition party had a competent leader, Mr Gething would be in even greater trouble than he is. But shortly after the result was declared, Andrew RT Davies appeared in a video in which he congratulated Mr Gething, made no mention of the stitch-ups and banged on as usual about the 20mph default speed limit, with which he has a by now laughable obsession.

Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth, to his credit, issued a statement in which he was forthright about the scandalous events that have brought Mr Gething to power.

What Plaid needs to do as soon as possible is extricate itself from the Cooperation Agreement it has with Welsh Labour. Otherwise it will be tainted by association.

Any group in opposition to Mr Gething has the potential to gain support as a result of his move into the First Minister’s office.

Most dangerous, from the point of view of those who support devolution, is the possibility of a rise in support for parties that are hostile to the Senedd as an institution.

The next Senedd election will be in May 2026, by which time a Starmer-led Labour government is likely to have been in power for around 18 months and won’t have the alibi of negative decisions made by an unpopular Tory government at Westminster.

Unlike previous Labour First Ministers – Rhodri Morgan, Carwyn Jones and Mark Drakeford – Mr Gething doesn’t have engaging personal qualities that will help him soften criticism levelled at him and his administration. He lacks humility and has arrogance in abundance. He’s likely to lose votes for Labour in 2026.

Based on what shockingly came to light thanks to a variety of sources during the leadership election, we expect there to be a succession of further revelations as time goes by.

At Nation.Cymru we are ready to hold Mr Gething and his followers to account.


Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
24 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Annibendod
Annibendod
27 days ago

The danger is that in the eyes of a substantial minority, the Senedd is seen as a Labour project, a little bit like the old GLC. Rather than being the seat of Welsh Democracy, it is viewed as Welsh Labour’s fiefdom. The way Gething has conducted himself will only inflame these views. He is quite possibly the worst candidate for the job. He is putting the Senedd itself at risk for the sake of his personal ambition. Plaid need to fight his administration tooth and nail and make a much stronger pitch to the electorate.

Annibendod
Annibendod
26 days ago
Reply to  Annibendod

I have to add, the (mainly right wing) opposition to Welsh self governance have never bought in to the concept of Welsh Democracy. It’s a heck of a tough job to persuade that demographic that the Senedd isn’t a Left Wing project. ARTD continually erodes the case for our Senedd as an institution for all. But by far, the biggest problem is Labour’s poor performance in government. Plaid Cymru have to take the fight to Labour and win the electorate’s trust. We have the solution which is to build a replacement for the UK founded in democratic States for the… Read more »

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
26 days ago
Reply to  Annibendod

How the hell have you managed to link a dodgy Labour election by Labour, supported by LEFT WING unions as some sort of right wing opposition????
The enemy to devolution and independence is the “Welsh” Labour Party that has clearly shown it’s true colours.
Please open your eyes and stop seeing all the evils in Wales as the fault of anyone but the Labour Party.

Jon Coles
Jon Coles
26 days ago
Reply to  Annibendod

If the Plaid leadership had the stones, they’d ditch the cooperation agreement and vote against Vaughan Gething as FM. Most likely, they’ll bitch and whinge and abstain.

Yuri Nator
Yuri Nator
25 days ago
Reply to  Jon Coles

Jon, you’re spot on. It’s disingenuous of Plaid to bitch as they do but still be part of a cooperation agreement with Labour. Mealy mouthed bitching really isn’t it?

They’re already tainted from propping up Drakeford; why risk being tainted from propping up Gething?

Rhun ap Iorwerth had the perfect reason to walk away from the cooperation agreement on day 1. It was negotiated when Adam Price was leader. Times have changed. Now Drakeford’s vacated the party leader position, the case for ditching the cooperation agreement is even more compelling.

A Evans
A Evans
26 days ago
Reply to  Annibendod

And stop backing this corrupt regime!

Alwyn
Alwyn
26 days ago

-And you’ll be needed to hold him to account Nation.Cymru. as no other media source will do so

Swn Y Mor
Swn Y Mor
26 days ago
Reply to  Alwyn

Its an absolute must that Nation.Cymru continues to hold the Labour party to account because the opposition parties are not doing a very good job. You have this huge target in Welsh Labour, barely moving at this point, and what do we have in response from the Welsh Conservatives and Andrew Roaring Davies? 20 mph. Sometimes it is very hard not to despair for the future of Wales.

Rob
Rob
26 days ago

What a disgrace. Poor Cymru doesn’t have a chance with labour in charge. 25 years of cronyism. Wake up Wales!

Owain Glyndŵr
Owain Glyndŵr
26 days ago
Reply to  Rob

Who do you think should be in charge?

Neil Anderson
Neil Anderson
26 days ago

When will it be that Pobl Cymru in conjunction with our fellow residents, say enough is enough?

When will your patience with demonstrably inadequate governance and financial regimes run out?

You know that we can do it better. Gall Cymru!

When will you vote to get us out of this mess?

Swn Y Mor
Swn Y Mor
26 days ago

Memberships interests? Mr Shipton where have you been the last few years? Look at the reaction when the Tories changed the party rules and subbed in Sunak against the memberships wishes. You had media commentators on social media virtually praising this outcome and some even warning of the dangers of the membership having the vote. Sadly this is the direction of travel for the UK as a whole, more centralization, less accountability and a complete disregard for the memberships views.

Why vote
Why vote
26 days ago

We vote the party into power then unions vote who the top dog is, that sounds fair? There are departments in the senedd specifically to look in to corrupt business practices and dodgy dealings that would pounce on any body in this land that partake in said dealings, so what is going on. When are the other party’s in wales going to make a stand against the big 2 and offer the electorate a reasonable expectation of clear fair and honest governance, all that is required from the senedd is to maintain the infrastructure in this land without interfering with… Read more »

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
26 days ago

It is said that a leopard never changes its spots. How true this is of Labour – back to the good old days of dodgy friends and unions pulling the strings.
Martin Shipton has rightly thrown down the challenge to Plaid Cymru and Rhun ap Iorwerth – remain as the prop to a tainted leader and government and you will be cast in the same light. Walk away and start building a serious movement ready for 2026!
Unfortunately, judging by past activity, I won’t hold my breath.

A Evans
A Evans
26 days ago

The Senedd have got away with wasting so much of taxpayer’s money that they are now openly defiant of any criticism. I queried MS Dawn Bowden & two other “officials” trip to New Zealand to watch a rugby match & requested more details of the trip, expenditure & expenses. She wouldn’t answer but told me to contact the Welsh Office about it! She KNEW every thing about that trip but refused to part with the info. When I “eventually” got a reply from the WO ( must have taken ages to readjust) there were no details about expenses but it… Read more »

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
26 days ago
Reply to  A Evans

And this kind of activity from Labour politicians surprises you??????

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
26 days ago

I have suggestion for Rhun ap Iorwerth to show his true colours.
In the good old days when Wales had the finest politicians money could buy, many of Vaughan Gethin’s party predecessors were charged under the Misconduct in Public Office Act with “accepting inducements, gifts or rewards to show favour in the affairs of...”
I wonder how Gethin’s recent activity fits???Perhaps ap Iorwerth might discuss this with his legal advisors?

Mawkernewek
Mawkernewek
26 days ago

Really you don’t think Starmer won’t still be blaming the previous government in 2026. He’ll probably still be doing so even if he gets a second term

Riki
Riki
26 days ago

So all the nations of the UK have UN-elected leaders! Wow, That must be Rishis vision of “Democracry”

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
26 days ago

Maybe a formal complaint to the standards committee would do some good? Surely accepting money which has been acquired through criminal activity is not acceptable for an AM let alone the soon to be crowned First Minister.

Jon Coles
Jon Coles
26 days ago

Basic arithmetic undermines the claim that Mr Gething won both the membership and the affiliate votes. If that were the case, his plurality among the affiliate vote would have been so small as to call into question the value of union backing.
Moreover, with a 16.7% turnout, Mr Gething received the support of an overwhelming 8.7% of the eligible electorate.

Richard E
Richard E
26 days ago

We as a nation now have to look forward. The Labour in Wales party has chosen in its own usual way and the 49 per cent of their members need to also move forward in their own chosen way.

Plaid have their own path to follow and perhaps this new direction will wake their own pro Labour section up ⬆️ to the heavy responsibility they now have. They need to reach out to those in the 49 per cent who no doubt will see this vote as a step backwards.

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.