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The arrogance and incompetence of Welsh Labour

The Vaughan Gething scandal exposes the rot at the heart of the Welsh government.

Austin Williams

Topics Politics UK

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Speaking in Llandudno, north Wales, in 2022, Labour leader Keir Starmer said that the Welsh Labour government provided a ‘blueprint for what Labour can do across the UK’.

If so, the prospect of a Labour victory at next month’s General Election should worry us all. Welsh GP and dental services are in dire straits, educational standards are plummeting and a third of children in Wales are classed as living in poverty. The Welsh Labour government’s litany of failures goes on and on.

On top of all this, serious questions are being asked about the integrity of first minister and Welsh Labour leader Vaughan Gething. He has only been in post since March, after replacing Mark Drakeford, who announced his resignation earlier this year. In a close-run contest to succeed Drakeford as Labour leader, Gething picked up 52 per cent of Labour members’ votes, compared with 48 per cent for his rival, Jeremy Miles. The 60-seat Welsh Senedd, dominated by Labour, then voted for Gething to be first minister and lead the devolved Welsh administration. Just as Rishi Sunak’s prime ministership was imposed on Britain without the public having any say, so too was Gething’s leadership of Wales.

Now, however, the means through which Gething won the Labour leadership are in the spotlight. His election campaign received a £200,000 boost from recycling franchise Dauson Environmental Group (DEG). The problem for Gething is that DEG’s owner, David Neal, is far from squeaky clean, having been given a suspended prison sentence in 2013 over the illegal dumping of waste. More troubling still, in 2023, DEG received £400,000 from the Development Bank of Wales, a subsidiary of the Welsh government that’s overseen by the economy minister. And who was economy minister in 2023? One Vaughan Gething.

Thanks to DEG’s backing, Gething’s campaign spending was far in excess of that of Miles, his nearest rival. Given the source of Gething’s extravagantly funded leadership bid, some now contend that the new first minister has been illegally dumped on Wales.

Matters came to a head last week, when Gething lost a vote of no confidence in the Senedd, just 77 days into his tenure as first minister. Yet he has vowed to carry on in post (technically the vote is non-binding).

This isn’t a surprise. He has a track record for blithely ignoring scandals in which he’s implicated. Last month, it was alleged that he misled the UK Covid Inquiry. He initially claimed in both written and oral evidence that his WhatsApp messages had been deleted from his mobile phone during a refit by the Senedd’s IT department. Thanks to a whistleblowing Labour minister, Nation Cymru published a message sent by Gething on 17 August 2020: ‘I’m deleting the messages in this group. They can be captured in an FOI [freedom of information request] and I think we are all in the right place on the choice being made.’ It certainly looks like a deliberate attempt on Gething’s part to avoid accountability for decisions made during the pandemic. He has since responded by sacking Hannah Blythyn, the minister he accused of being responsible for the leaked message.

Gething is clearly an arrogant man. He refuses to answer questions that he doesn’t like, possesses an enormous sense of entitlement and surrounds himself with a coterie of political loyalists. His refusal to accept the no-confidence vote is just the latest example of his magisterial conceit – and of how Labour treats Wales as a fiefdom.

Earlier this year, then first minister Mark Drakeford hit the headlines as he fought back tears during his resignation speech. Presumably he was crying tears of joy that he’d got away with running Wales without ever facing much scrutiny. Gething was also seen wiping away a tear in the Senedd during last week’s no-confidence vote, as he realised the extent of the mess he’d got himself into. But while Drakeford and Gething weep, the Welsh people are crying – crying out for improvements in health, education and basic living standards.

Too often, the Welsh public’s anger has been directed at the central government in Westminster. They need to look closer to home, at the failures and abuses of power by the Welsh Labour government in Cardiff Bay. If this really is to be the blueprint for a Starmer-led UK government, then don’t say you weren’t warned.

Austin Williams is director of the Future Cities Project. Follow him on X: @Future_Cities.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK

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