X Close

Vaughan Gething is the new Humza Yousaf

At least he's surpassed Liz Truss. Credit: Getty

June 6, 2024 - 2:00pm

Vaughan Gething, First Minister of Wales for less than three months, yesterday lost a no-confidence motion in the Senedd.

It isn’t the end, at least not immediately: this was no Cambrian repeat of the dramatic collapse of Jim Callaghan’s Westminster government in 1979. While many features are similar — a canny motion from the Conservatives, and a knife-edge defeat — the motion is non-binding.

Nonetheless, it is a serious blow to Gething, who was already on the ropes after his leadership campaign was dogged by the story of his taking large donations from a convicted polluter and, allegedly, lobbying on its behalf while serving as a minister.

Dauson Environmental Group gave him £200,000, a huge sum in Welsh politics. In February last year, it received a £400,000 loan from the Welsh Development Bank, an autonomous body that fell within Gething’s portfolio as economy minister.

The First Minister insists that he never made a decision regarding Dauson, and this may be true. The real scandal of the WDB is that it haemorrhages taxpayers’ money, losing over £60 million in a single year. A single, now-shuttered project, the Welsh Life Science Fund, closed at a £27.1 million loss.

Politically, though, the danger for Labour has been clear for months. These questions dogged Gething through the recent leadership campaign but, in the classic style of machine politics in a polity where one party has effective control, they weren’t dealt with. His campaign seemed to believe that bulldozing its way through Labour’s internal processes was all that mattered. There were even accusations of an old-fashioned trade union stitch-up to deprive Jeremy Miles, Gething’s opponent, of Unite’s endorsement.

Miles nonetheless came very close to winning, with a final split of 52/48. That, on top of the questions over the money and allegations of underhanded tactics, seems to have left Gething without the firm support of his own party. Yesterday’s no-confidence motion only passed because two of his own MSs were “sick”, and thus unable to vote.

Westminster has procedures for that; anyone who has seen This House, James Graham’s play about the fall of the Callaghan government, will remember the importance of “pairing”, where the whips agree for MPs to sit out if someone from the other side can’t make an important vote.

Such deals weren’t in place here largely because the Welsh Parliament has extremely generous rules about remote voting — members only need to warn the IT service in advance and have access to a device with an internet connection. If the two Labour abstainers had wished to vote, they could have.

If anything, all this most closely echoes the downfall of Humza Yousaf. In Scotland, as in Wales, a weak candidate was installed by a ruling party machine, and in both cases the challenger came closer to winning than many people expected.

Gething, like Yousaf, held the health portfolio during the pandemic, during which he was responsible for the Welsh Government’s policy of opting out of UK-wide Covid response measures for the sake of being different, even if that meant programmes such as food deliveries for vulnerable people were delayed.

This isn’t to say Miles would have been much better: it was striking that the then-Education Minister’s leadership campaign had absolutely nothing to say about Wales’s collapsing school performance. But given that neither man seemed to have any interest in talking about Labour’s record, or changing the steady but downward trajectory set by Mark Drakeford, it would surely have been advantageous to pick the candidate not mired in a classic city-hall pollution scandal straight out of the Chicago playbook.

The Welsh Government has so far dismissed the no-confidence motion as a “political stunt”. The only people this will please are the Welsh Conservatives, who are doing everything in their power to try and run against Labour’s record in Cardiff, rather than their own at Westminster.


Henry Hill is Deputy Editor of ConservativeHome.

HCH_Hill

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

6 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
David Lindsay
David Lindsay
18 days ago

From Neil Kinnock down, the entire Welsh Labour Establishment supported Vaughan Gething for Leader, and thus for First Minister. And while there may be worse than Torsten Bell, someone in Swansea West needs to ask what his duties were as Special Adviser to the late Alistair Darling as Chancellor of the Exchequer, since that Chancellorship ended when Bell was all of 27 years old. A Minister this time next month, apparently.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
18 days ago

The only people this will please are the Welsh Conservatives, who are doing everything in their power to try and run against Labour’s record in Cardiff, rather than their own at Westminster.
Perhaps I’m missing something. Please explain how running against the opposition party’s record in governing the country is somehow a bad thing. One can easily imagine that Welsh conservatives, or Welsh liberals, would be primarily concerned with the govt’s performance in Wales.

Andrew R
Andrew R
18 days ago

Sir Kier Starmer showing very poor judgement.

“Vaughan is a man of honour and integrity and what we’ve seen today is just a cheap political stunt by the opposition, led by the Conservatives, aided and abetted by Plaid Cymru”.

Welsh Labour are an absolute disgrace. I hope this man of “honour and integrity” keeps his position so that the public can see how useless and corrupt this party actually is.

2 plus 2 equals 4
2 plus 2 equals 4
18 days ago

Gething is a political nonentity whose entire career has been dedicated to one day seizing the commanding heights of the pointless clusterf**k which is the Senedd.
My impression is that he’s not as obnoxiously venal as Yousaf, but that may be a slight bias on my part as we overlapped at university and some of my friends knew/know him from student Labour Club days.
But this is Wales where Labour still rules the roost to a sufficient extent that it won’t make any difference who they have as leader.

Elon Workman
Elon Workman
18 days ago

This is what happens in a situation where one party has held power for twenty six years with little or no opposition and where the First Minister does not have to resign even after losing a vote of no confidence. Sir Keir Starmer has already given Wales as an example of how he would govern the U K.

Chipoko
Chipoko
17 days ago

Why is it that we end up with such dreadful people as our leaders?