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Opinion

We need a First Minister who will stand up for Wales, not just Welsh Labour

06 Jan 2024 6 minute read
Vaughan Gething MS & Jeremy Miles MS

Martin Shipton

Paradoxical as it may at first seem, Jeremy Miles’ advantage in the Welsh Labour leadership contest stems from the fact that he cannot be classified as an ambitious party tribalist whose career has been motivated by the drive for self-advancement.

The first paragraph of his potted biography on the Welsh Government’s website states: “Jeremy Miles was born and brought up in Pontarddulais. As a Welsh speaker, he was educated at Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera in the Swansea Valley and New College, Oxford where he studied law. Straight after graduating, Jeremy taught law at Warsaw University in Poland.

Later, he practised as a solicitor in London and then held senior legal and commercial posts in media sector businesses, including ITV and the US television network and film studio NBC Universal. After returning to live in Wales he set up his own consultancy working with international clients in the broadcast and digital sectors.”

Miles, then, had made his mark outside politics before being elected to the Senedd in 2016. By contrast, his opponent Vaughan Gething has been caught up in internal Labour Party manoeuvrings since his student days.

Canny members of Welsh Labour realise that they need to elect a leader not just for the party in Wales but for the nation as a whole. They will be asking themselves which of the two candidates is better equipped for such a role.

Following a phoney war over the Christmas and New Year period, the contest has now begun in earnest. Following some brief hand-wringing about the lack of a woman’s name on the ballot paper – if the politicians complaining were as concerned as they claim, that surely wouldn’t be the case – everyone now knows it’s a binary choice between Gething and Miles.

History

There’s been a flurry of nominations, and what’s interesting and probably significant is that despite neither of the candidates being associated with the party’s left wing, those who could be identified as such are mostly swinging behind Miles.

Some of that is to do with Gething’s history. He was, in the early days, a protégé of Alun Michael and supported him against Rhodri Morgan in the Welsh Labour leadership that took place after Ron Davies’ resignation.

Gething joined Michael on the party’s regional list in Mid and West Wales in 1999. Michael got elected and Gething didn’t. By allying himself with Michael at that crucial time, Gething showed loyalty to Tony Blair, who was determined to block Morgan’s leadership challenge.

People have long memories. Some take the view that, if elected, Gething would be inclined to be Keir Starmer’s man in Wales if, as expected, Labour wins the general election later this year.

The nature of the relationship between Welsh Labour and UK Labour will be crucial if Starmer makes it to Downing Street.

During the long years of Tory rule at Westminster, successive Welsh Labour governments have had the luxury of being able to blame somebody else for whatever shortcomings may have been evident at the time. On occasion, austerity policies imposed by the UK Government have been expected to carry the can in circumstances where bad decisions have been made in Wales.

Yet both Starmer and his Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves have made it clear that the spending floodgates will not be opened if they take power. This could lead to tensions between Wales and a Starmer-led UK Government. Equally, there could be tensions if Starmer rejects calls made for the Senedd to be granted more powers.

Both Gething and Miles have committed themselves to doing what they can to ensure the election of a Labour government in Westminster. But it’s what happens afterwards that will count.

To what extent will either of the leadership contenders be prepared to press the case for Wales both publicly and in private meetings? This hasn’t been an issue while the Conservatives have held sway, but will most definitely become one if and when Labour wins the general election.

Supporters of Miles claim privately that he will be more determined to seek a partnership with Starmer based on mutual respect than Gething, whose instincts as a party loyalist would make him more inclined to defer to the Whitehall machine, albeit that it will be serving a Labour Prime Minister.

Here’s where the idea of electing a leader for Wales rather than simply of Welsh Labour comes into play.

During the campaign, it will be important to pin both candidates down on how far they will be prepared to go in pressing the case for Wales.

Funding

A few months ago Mark Drakeford was inconsistent in his approach to securing Barnett consequential funding for Wales in respect of the HS2 high speed rail project. Wales is missing out on potentially billions of pounds because it was classified by the UK Government as an “England and Wales” project, despite HS2’s route being entirely in England. Drakeford confirmed that the Welsh Government was considering a legal challenge over the injustice, but wouldn’t commit to pursuing such an action against a Westminster Labour government.

Messrs Gething and Miles need to state very clearly what their approach will be to such issues. Their loyalty to Wales needs to be tested. Both will doubtless claim that they will “work closely with Keir”. But what would that amount to in practice? Would they, as a first step, be prepared to criticise a UK Government in public if behind-the-scenes diplomacy hadn’t worked? Wales deserves a First Minister – a national leader – who is prepared to stand up for its interests regardless of party considerations.

It may be that on many occasions the interests of Wales and the rest of the UK will coincide. But there will be situations where the interests diverge – or where the existing ideological position of Welsh Labour differs from that of Starmer’s “new New Labour” Westminster regime.

All the prognostications suggest that an incoming Labour government will be cautious in terms of public spending. Yet there is a great appetite for change from people in Wales and beyond who are suffering because of a painful reduction in their living standards.

Our next First Minister must stand with them, even if that means disagreeing publicly with Keir Starmer – and going further than that, if necessary.


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Alwyn
Alwyn
1 month ago

Martin Shipton, as he generally does, reads the forecasts better than other Welsh journalists. He identifies the key differences between Jeremy Miles and Vaughan Gething, namely that Jeremy Miles is a Welsh Labour candidate above all else and that Vaughan Gething is a British Labour candidate, whose long-standing loyalty is to Labour, not Welsh Labour. He’s certainly a very able politician, whom I like personally, and respect from the days when he and I were treading the streets of Penarth – though supporting candidates from different parties!. But as I said to him the last time I saw him face… Read more »

Andy
Andy
1 month ago
Reply to  Alwyn

They’re both lawyers.

Annibendod
Annibendod
1 month ago

The idea that we live in hope for a Welsh Labour leader who’ll stand up to his party leader in London is a sick joke. Who are the good people in Welsh Labour who will say “enough is enough”? We deserve a great deal more than that. We deserve a Democratic, Welsh Nation State and we deserve to be governed by the government we elect every time and not when it so happens that the country next door votes the same way. It’s time we showed Labour’s Unionism the door. Labour will simply not deliver what Wales desperately needs. Don’t… Read more »

Alwyn
Alwyn
1 month ago
Reply to  Annibendod

I’d agree with that. But in the meantime, I’d be far happier with Jeremy Miles protecting Welsh interests than Vaughan Gething

Annibendod
Annibendod
1 month ago
Reply to  Alwyn

Least worst.

Nick
Nick
1 month ago

I think it says something telling about the hollow and performative nature of modern nationalism that refusing to take a legal challenge that is inevitably doomed to fail and which would cost significant amounts of time, money and legal resource which could otherwise be used to actually help the people of Wales is ‘inconsistent’. Having read through both candidates proposals to date, I am shocked at how little substance there is to either of them. Beyond another round of pointless stakeholder engagement to learn that everyone would like us to spend more money on everything and setting up a new… Read more »

Cwm Rhondda
Cwm Rhondda
1 month ago

The Labour Party has suffocated our ambitions for many, many years. I have little faith that this will change.

Maesglas
Maesglas
1 month ago

Of the two, there is no comparison in that Gethin comes across as a careerist politician who goes through the tribalist motions of Labour politics. He seems to be bereft of new thinking – particularly on Welsh affairs. Miles, at least offers a little more than that.

Charles Coombes
Charles Coombes
1 month ago

Vote Plaid Cymru then!

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
1 month ago

I cannot believe why the majority of the people our country still have faith in a party that is based outside Wales. There is nothing that the labour party offers better than our country being an independent country with a Plaid Cymru government in government working only for Wales. The UK has never been a insurance policy for Wales, except it is always taking our money and wealth out of our country and rarely coming to our aid for our benefit. We still remain poor and will always so under the UK accounting system. We just need to look across… Read more »

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