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Opinion

Will Gething in power herald the rise in Wales of Reform UK?

23 Mar 2024 6 minute read
Vaughan Gething’s new cabinet

Martin Shipton

Let’s hope it’s not an omen that the first poll published in Wales after Vaughan Gething’s election as Welsh Labour leader put Reform UK in second place on 24% – four points ahead of Plaid Cymru and as many as 11 points ahead of the Tories. Labour was in the lead on 39%.

There’s a major caveat – the Deltapoll sample was tiny, with just over 100 voters from Wales in a Britain-wide poll, so firm conclusions can’t be drawn. But it’s worth making two points. The percentage level of support shown for Reform in Wales was higher than in any other part of Britain.

And lest we refuse to believe that people in “progressive” Wales would vote in such numbers for a party to the right of the Conservatives, we must remind ourselves that Reform UK’s previous name was the Brexit Party, which in 2019 topped the poll in Wales at our final European Parliament election before Brexit with 32.46% of the vote.

There’s something else that needs to be said. Who would believe, looking at the official photograph of Vaughan Gething’s Cabinet outside the Cathays Park HQ of the Welsh Government, that this was a happy, enthusiastic team eagerly anticipating the challenges ahead and confident in the knowledge that within months they would be working in tandem with an incoming Labour government at Westminster?

The only one actually smiling is Lynne Neagle, who when first elected in 1999 could never have dreamed that one day she would find herself in charge of the Education portfolio.

Discomfort

The fact is, as we know, that most members of the Cabinet would rather Mr Gething was not First Minister, and while for one reason or another they have agreed to serve under him, they have a great sense of discomfort and even disgust at the way he was elected, with a £200k donation from a convicted criminal. They know that this issue is not going to go away and that it will haunt Mr Gething in the way Partygate haunted Boris Johnson.

Not one of them doubts that Labour will win the general election when it comes later this year, but they understand that having Keir Starmer in Downing Street will deprive them of the ability to blame Westminster whenever things go wrong.

While Wales’ performance in the three crucial policy areas of health, education and the economy has undoubtedly been disappointing throughout the period of devolution, each of the three previous First Ministers – Rhodri Morgan, Carwyn Jones and Mark Drakeford – have had individual leadership skills that for much of the time allowed them to mitigate the reputational damage for Welsh Labour.

They were also helped by the lack of credible opposition and a major event like Covid which, whatever the serious errors that are now becoming clear, allowed Mr Drakeford to display a reassuringly professorial style in contrast to the offkey flamboyance of Boris Johnson.

Mr Gething’s egregious rise to power has deprived him of any similar political credit, and he can expect to take the full brunt of criticism from whatever quarter it comes.

Embarrassment

For several years Wales’ poor performance in the international PISA tables that measure teenagers’ basic educational skills have been an embarrassment. Things have now got worse, with a devastating report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that bluntly states how school education reforms in Wales have failed and need to be reversed.

Mr Gething’s decision to put Ms Neagle, a novice in the policy area, in charge, does not suggest any determination to take the criticisms seriously and do something about them. It will be Mr Gething, as well as Ms Neagle, who takes the flak.

We shall also have to see what impact the new First Minister will be able to have on the continuing crises facing the NHS in Wales, both in terms of waiting times and the performance of individual units that have fallen far short of expectations and in some cases are not trusted to run themselves. In the run-up to the next Senedd election in 2026, these matters will intensify in their political significance.

In the short term, Mr Gething faces the likelihood of a legal challenge to the Welsh Government’s Senedd reform plans relating to gender balance and gender self-identification. His choice may come down to performative politics (making a grand gesture while secretly accepting you’ll lose) or political expediency (making a U-turn and annoying those you were trying to please), both of which have their drawbacks.

It’s after Labour wins the general election that there will be a new dynamic in UK politics. The likelihood is that Labour will win with a handsome majority, allowing the party to implement whatever plans it wants to without fear of being ambushed by its opponents.

There will be high expectations about what can be achieved, with people expecting a short-term improvement to their living standards. Yet statements made by both Keir Starmer and his Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves have suggested that there will not be any radical change.

Together with other Labour politicians they have trotted out economically illiterate Tory mantras like “There is no magic money tree” and “We’ve maxed out the nation’s credit card”, with the clear intention of justifying continuing austerity and dampening hope for real change.

Margaret Thatcher

At the same time we have seen Margaret Thatcher hailed by members of the Shadow Cabinet as a visionary and mourned heroine from the past. Such rhetoric isn’t pitched at Welsh Labour’s core working class supporters in Valleys communities or even at its middle class professional voters in Cardiff and elsewhere, both sets of whom will find the attempt to rewrite history as insulting to the communities that suffered because of Thatcher’s policies.

It’s pitched at others who don’t share the values that underpinned the Labour Party when it was established – predominantly, the pursuit of a fairer deal for ordinary workers.

Mr Gething is, in fact, a perfect fit for this new and perverse form of Labourism. He likes to claim that he was helping a company in his constituency, but there’s no getting away from the fact that he lobbied (he doesn’t like the word, but I can’t think of a better one) the regulator NRW, asking it to go easy on his donor’s polluting firm. The look will not improve with age.

My fear is that by the time of the next Senedd election in 2026, many voters in Wales who have been disillusioned by both the Tories and Labour will be tempted by the superficial allure of populism and vote for Reform UK.

The possibility of that will rise if Richard Tice is replaced as Reform’s leader by the party’s owner (what democratic party has an owner?), Nigel Farage.


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Richard 1
Richard 1
17 days ago

“For several years Wales’ poor performance in the international PISA tables that measure teenagers’ basic educational skills have been an embarrassment.”
Three plural nouns (“tables”, “teenagers”, and “skills”) have appeared between the subject, “performance”, and the main verb “have been” but none of them is the subject of the sentence, which is singular and so must take the singular form of the verb – “has been”. “See me”, teacher says. What says Lynne Neagle, now in charge of the Education portfolio?

Last edited 17 days ago by Richard 1
Rob Pountney
Rob Pountney
17 days ago

Tiny sample (So must be taken with a very large pinch of salt…)… But I do think Shipton is highlighting the wrong points… Lab 39% RefUK 24% Plaid 20% Con 13% Others 4% Obviously this is not really accurate… But, if it is any guide at all, then RefUK are taking the Tory vote, and, for a Westminster election 20% is very high for Plaid… 2019 was Lab 41% Con 36% Plaid 10% (RefUK) 5.5% Green 1% Note… Labour down 2 (possible Gething effect?) UK wide they are massively up… Combined Tory/RefUK vote down 4.5%, so the story here is… Read more »

cablestreet
cablestreet
17 days ago
Reply to  Rob Pountney

I hope you’re right in your analysis. RefUk? You’ve made my day. I look forward to Fiona Bruce handling that one on Question Time. RefUK, reincarnation of the Brexit Party, just carrying on the good work f******g the country over.

Last edited 17 days ago by cablestreet
A Evans
A Evans
14 days ago
Reply to  Rob Pountney

Never forget – Plaid have backed Welsh Labour in all the failed, costly projects!

Nia James
Nia James
17 days ago

Not that surprised. I was on the train from Port Talbot to Newport on Thursday. Large group joined at Bridgend on their way to London. They were all critical of our First Minister and Labour. They then started saying positive things about Farage and Lee Anderson. I was glad to get off the train at Newport.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
17 days ago

I thought that photo was of the cast of ‘Are You Being Served’…

Glen
Glen
17 days ago

The real problem for Gething is the dearth of talent available for him to choose from.

A Evans
A Evans
14 days ago
Reply to  Glen

Including himself!

Annibendod
Annibendod
17 days ago

Fartage actually isn’t that popular according to other UK polling which probably explains why he’s taking a backseat. He’s in the Truss category – the Tory diehards like him but he’s an electoral liability now Brexit is being seen as an almighty cawlach. Reform however, they’re slowly picking up the socially conservative vote. And there are a lot of socially conservative British-identifying folk in Wales. So, despite the tiny sample size, I understand the worry here. Particularly when over half don’t vote in Senedd elections.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
17 days ago

Less we forget Reform UK’s former incarnation Ukip. Remember that England supporting crooked Conservative Neil Hamilton who refused to live in the constituency he allegedly represented while living in the South East of England , and his Yorkshire henchman that anti-Welsh political pustule Kremlin agent Nathan Gill. Both were gifted seats via the Senedd list system, and during their time did absolutely nothing for Wales or those voters who foolishly facilitated their entry like the Covid virus into the lungs of Welsh democracy where they served no actual purpose as AMs other than themselves receiving a generous wage for shirking… Read more »

A Evans
A Evans
14 days ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

Conversely, let’s stick with Welsh Labour who have ruined Wales?

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
17 days ago

This is worrying. Reform UK is basically an English nationalist party who would love to re-establish their dominance over Wales. They would take us back to pre 1997 and Wales would again be nothing but a subjugated ‘western region’. They must be called out very loudly for what they really are so that Welsh people, many of whom never bother reading the Welsh news, don’t fall for their rhetoric, and their mistruths. The possibility of this party gaining any ground in Wales is extremely dangerous. However, I do think that many people considering supporting this party are doing so because… Read more »

Last edited 17 days ago by Mr Williams
Jeff
Jeff
16 days ago

Bit of a stretch.
Spoiling your papers is also an option. Rather than vote for a party that harbours a putin enabler and Trump apologist and worshiper.

The biggest harm reform will probably do in the short term is force the PM to get more like Braverman and 30p.

Still, make sure you have ID required to vote in the GE.

A Evans
A Evans
14 days ago
Reply to  Jeff

You have the God given right to vote! Never waste it!

Jeff
Jeff
14 days ago
Reply to  A Evans

No deities involved, all legal and fought for, and the Tory party are trying to stop you voting. So make sure you have the legal ID to vote. Get a postal vote even. Anyone stops you outside a polling station to check ID, tell them to get lost, they can only check inside the station.

Even if you spoil your paper’s, please use your legal right to vote.

hdavies15
hdavies15
16 days ago

In the context of Wales Reform is just an Anglo Brit colonialist party with no interest in enabling Wales and its people to improve its lot on any matter. It advocates hoarding of control and earnings into its core areas so we who live in the colony won’t enjoy any benefit other than by accident. No improvement on any of the Unionist parties.

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
16 days ago

The poor state of our politics and many of our politicians opens the gates to populism. Reform UK would be quietly festering under a stone somewhere in a more democratic, less corrupt political system. In history when times are hard and our politicians are weak people turn to these extremists – and tend to suffer in the long term. Remember the 1930s? If we are to see Reform back in the margins, where it belongs, we have to clean up our democracy. Sadly, it will probably never happen while we stay in the Union, the stench is too strong. As… Read more »

Rob
Rob
16 days ago

A few points to consider in regards to the next Senedd election: a) it will occur in the midst of a Keir Starmer Premiership. b) the PR system will be used instead of FPTP, eliminating the need for tactical voting. (no more ‘Vote Labour to stop the Tories’) c) unlike the tories, Reform UK do not have the baggage of Margaret Thatcher. Unfortunately therefore I believe that its inevitable that Reform UK will win seats in 2026, unlike England it will be at the expense of the Labour party and not the Tories. I also think some people make the… Read more »

Last edited 16 days ago by Rob
Valerie Matthews
Valerie Matthews
16 days ago

Have looked at several ‘Reform’ posts. NO mention of any part of UK except ‘ENGLAND’ plastered with Union Flag. The Welsh, Scots and Irish apparently do not exist in ‘Reform World’! WHY would anyone in these Countries ever consider voting for them ? They are just petty ‘Englanders’ who regard anyone else as ‘foreign’. Nasty People!

PeterC
PeterC
16 days ago

Gething is outstanding in a field of mediocrity in that hevappears to have no talent at all. Every portfolio he has headed ghas resulted in near disaster at worse a worsening performance at best. Not really a good record, but Ii suppose his union masters determined it was his turn

karl
karl
16 days ago

I have seen evidence of plenty of bigots looking for a bandwagon. Reform UK, shortened to refUK are a danger to life. Same we see i n the US, Russia or Hungary. The people are depeerate, to desperate to ignore refUK are the real enemey. A dodgy first minister doesn’t move the anti Senedd lot to ur cause.

A Evans
A Evans
14 days ago

There we have it! The majority of voters are not happy with Welsh Labour’s dictatorial stance, backed to the hilt by Plaid! The Tories have wrecked the British economy….which leaves Reform! Who are apparently in 2nd place in the polls! We must vote them in to save the Welsh taxpayers wastage, prote t our NHS & Education. The solution lies in OUR hands

Jeff
Jeff
13 days ago
Reply to  A Evans

Even a basic scan of their policies (such as they are from this business) will see the UK scuppered faster than the Tory party is doing now, and that is saying something.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
14 days ago

A closer look at the ‘achievements’ of Vaughan Gething and his team exposes the fact that none of them seem to have a solid track record of any achievements. It seems to be a track record of failure from health [including mental health} to education. Add in the impression of corruption surrounding Gething leadership campaign and the dodgy donations/ his lobbying on lowering waste standards and it feels as if the future has become a lot bleaker for Wales. We need a socialist party in Wales with the well being of all people at its core. Plaid could be that… Read more »

Robert Clarke
Robert Clarke
11 days ago

Welsh politics have sunk into the sewer. How can a first minister be elected and supported by fellow ministers. Fully knowing that he has accepted £200 thousand pounds from a twice convicted criminal not only that he also lobbied for the same criminal for dumping chemical waste after he has been convicted What does this say to all the fly tipper’s . It proves the only thing that matters is money Honesty decency means nothing. How can we have any respect for politicians . The people of Wales are being taken for granted . And they all should hang their… Read more »

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