UK: Zambian-born Vaughan Gething set to become Wales’ first minister; England, Scotland and Wales all now under minority leaders

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  • The outgoing first minister, Mark Drakeford, will step down from the post next week.
  • In his acceptance speech, Vaughan Gething says he will be the “first black leader in any European country.”
  • Vaughan Gething, Wales’ economy minister and a former solicitor, was born in Zambia and raised in England before studying in Wales.
  • Gething ran against Wales’ Education Minister Jeremy Miles, also a solicitor, who was born and brought up in the mining town of Pontarddulais.
  • Gething was health minister between 2016 and May 2021, and oversaw Wales’ initial response to Covid.
  • He beat Jeremy Miles to the post by a fine margin, receiving 51.7% of the vote compared to Miles’ 48.3%.
  • Next week he is set to be confirmed as Wales’ first minister after Mark Drakeford officially steps down.
  • In doing so he will become Wales’ first ever black leader.

After the result, climate change minister Julie James, a Jeremy Miles supporter, called for a review of election rules after Vaughan Gething’s donations row.

“The rules for running elections need review, clearly,” she said.

“This is an ongoing problem and as long as you have to raise money in this way, to run these kinds of campaigns, we will always have problems – always.

“It needs a full-scale review and I think everybody knows that.”

Asked if Gething had made a mistake in accepting the money, she said: “I’m not going to comment on that, but what I will say is that it’s quite clear that with the rules the way they are we will continue to have this kind of problem until they are sorted out.”

A victory by either candidate “would have been a huge step forward”, she said, adding: “I’m really delighted for Vaughan. He will be an extremely good role model across Wales as he himself has said.”

Co-operation deal to continue?

Plaid Cymru is in a co-operation deal with the Welsh government, where they work together on major policies such as childcare and free school meals.

It is due to end in November —but given Plaid leader Rhun Ap Iowerth’s strong criticism of Gething, could it end?

Speaking on BBC Radio Wales, Ap Iorwerth suggested it may do.

“I make the distinction between questions that are very serious, I think about Vaughan Gething’s leadership and decisions that he has taken personally, and what we’re paid to do as representatives of the people of Wales.

“That means having to cooperate. There has never been a party in the history of devolution that has had a majority.”

But he added: “I think he’s got a lot of work to do to build confidence.”

Gething has defended his acceptance of £200,000 in donations from a company owned by a man twice convicted for environmental offences.

He said he “scrupulously” followed the rules relating to the declaration of donations with the Senedd and the electoral commission.

Letters sent in 2016 and 2018 where he lobbied on behalf of the company showed him “doing my job as a constituency member”.

Speaking on Radio Wales, he said: “This is a significant employer within the constituency (with) dozens of jobs there”.

“I’m really clear that nothing changes my commitment to having a firmer environmental regulation.

He dismissed concerns related to the convictions: “I’ve been very clear that there won’t be a dumbing down or a moving away from a commitment that I have made.”

Gething faces financial challenges

Price rises may be slowing and energy prices dropping, but people’s standard of living has been in rapid decline over the last couple of years and the pressure on household budgets remains intense.

Just as the new first minister takes over, increases in council tax bills will add to the financial pressure for many families across Wales.

The Welsh government already funds a scheme to subsidise council tax for the poorest households, and the UK government’s 2p cut in National Insurance will benefit middle earners in Wales from April.

But with more than one in four Welsh children living in poverty, will a fresh face at the helm be able to make a significant dent in a problem that has plagued Wales for decades?

‘No questions about his judgement’

A senior Welsh Labour MP has defended Gething over his donations from a company owned by a man who has been given suspended sentences twice for environmental offences.

The controversy around Dauson Environmental Group’s £200,000 donation dominated much of the later campaign.

Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens told BBC Wales: “I don’t have questions about his judgement. I think he’ll be a brilliant first minister.”

He said it was a “false equivalence” to draw comparisons to the £15m Labour say the Conservatives should return to Frank Hester.

“You have on the one hand Frank Hester who has donated £15m to the Conservative party, who has made racist comments about Diane Abbott, and has also said she should be shot.

“I take that very personally, as two of my colleagues have been murdered since I’ve been a Member of Parliament.

“That is completely different to the situation here where declarations have been made in accordance with the rules, both to the Senedd and to the Electoral Commission.”

The education challenges Gething faces

Wales ranks lowest of the UK nations in international reading, maths and science tests.

Ministers say it’s only one measure. But it’s a high profile one, giving political opponents plenty of ammunition to attack the government’s record on education.

There’ll be pressure on the new first minister to show there’s real progress in boosting standards as well as getting to grips with other big problems such as low attendance.

Making sure the new curriculum and new-look GCSEs bed in is another major challenge.

At the same time budgets are being squeezed, and that’s a worry not just in schools, but universities too are under huge financial pressures.

How have trade unions reacted?

Unison congratulated Gething on the victory but urged that workers are “still suffering from the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation”.

“They need more money in their pockets, better working conditions and a Labour leader who will fight for fair funding for Wales,” says regional secretary Jess Turner.

School leaders’ union NAHT Cymru says it “more important now than ever” that education should be a top priority for Gething.

“Schools are facing a myriad of ever more difficult challenges, and in particular, we urge the new first minister to address the critical funding situation many are facing,” says Laura Doel, national secretary.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, says: “We welcome that Vaughan Gething has been elected to lead the Welsh Labour Party and look forward to working with him to improve the lives of workers in Wales and deliver for our members.

“We also pay tribute to Jeremy Miles for running a strong leadership campaign and Mark Drakeford for his service to Wales as first minister since 2018.”

What do businesses want from the new first minister?

After the restrictions caused by Covid and the pressures of rising prices, businesses want stability and support from the new first minister.

While few levers in Cardiff Bay can be pulled to improve trading conditions, the successful candidate can expect to be lobbied hard on the issue of business rates.

From April, the government is cutting its discount on the rates paid by some retail, hospitality and leisure companies.

There have also been complaints from some managers about the new 20mph default speed limit affecting delivery times, which will be fed into any review of the 20mph legislation announced by the new first minister.

Easing barriers to trade, and finding new opportunities and export markets, are often part of the positive relationship between businesses and politicians.

Bosses want to have confidence that the man who gets the government’s top job understands their concerns, so that they can keep their own focus on the bottom line.

‘Wales can expect more of the same’

The Welsh Conservatives congratulated Vaughan Gething’s victory – up to a point.

The party’s leader in the Welsh Parliament, Andrew RT Davies, said: “Wales can expect more of the same with Vaughan Gething as first minister.”

He said the Senedd member for Cardiff South and Penarth “has been part of a Labour Welsh government that has presided over record NHS waiting lists, the steepest decline in educational standards in the UK, the highest business rates in Britain, and is committed to the 20mph speed limit”.

Former first minister says Gething must ‘give people hope’

Carwyn Jones, who was Labour first minister of Wales from 2009 to 2018, tells BBC News that the election of the first black leader in any European country is “something that we can celebrate here in Wales”.

Jones, who has known Vaughan Gething since the new Welsh leader was a student, says he believes he will be “a strong first minister” and adds that the closeness of the result “shows how good they both were as candidates”.

He adds: “The first thing that I think he has to do is give people a message of hope. The news is so difficult for people day after day, they don’t see a way out of the current economic situation across the UK. He is now able to say ‘I’m a new generation, I’m looking for a way out’.

“You have to give people the hope that there is a better time coming, a better period of time coming, before it actually happens. And I think this is a great chance for him to to say ‘this is the path I want to follow, and this is the path I think will take us to better times.”

Plaid Cymru react to Gething election

“I congratulate Vaughan Gething on winning the Welsh Labour leadership election,” says Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth.

“But he also brings his own personal issues. It is a matter of deep concern that we now have an incoming first minister who, before even taking up the highest public office, is facing serious allegations and questions about his judgement.”

He refers to the £200,000 given to Vaughan Gething’s campaign by a company whose owner has twice been convicted for the illegal dumping of waste.

“At the very least, Vaughan Gething should surely return the £200,000 campaign donation which has rightly drawn so much criticism from within his own party and beyond,” he adds.

“This is not as good as it gets for Wales. The people of Wales deserve a party that has a real vision for the future – one that’s based on fairness and ambition, and that is what a vote for Plaid Cymru can offer.”

It was a sharp exit from Jeremy Miles – and his statement had a sharp pay off, too.

Remember Miles is a solicitor by trade – a profession known for its particular attention to language.

“We must never forget this is an honour underpinned by trust that must be continually earned,” he writes.

This has been a campaign dominated latterly by disquiet, anger, fury – take your pick – from some in Welsh Labour over donations made to Gething.

What health challenges face the first minister?

The numerous challenges facing the NHS in Wales will be a top concern for the incoming first minister.

More than half of the Welsh government’s budget is spent on health and social care.

And during the past year, spending on lots of other things has had to be cut so that hundreds of millions of pounds could be diverted to keep the NHS going.

Yet even with this extra cash it’s almost certain three health boards will have overspent by the end of the financial year.

And then there are strikes. Within days of the new first minister taking up post up post – junior doctors across Wales will once again be on picket lines.

Consultants and other senior doctors are then set to strike, for the first time, after Easter.

In his speech, Gething says it is “an honour” to become Europe’s first black leader after he is voted Welsh Labour leader.

The former health and economy minister is due to be confirmed as first minister next week, after Mark Drakeford steps down.

Gething says it is ‘an honour’ to become Europe’s first black leaderVaughan Gething says it is ‘an honour’ to become Europe’s first black leader.

More members of trade unions and other affiliates groups took part in the contest than the last time Labour elected a leader in 2018.

A total of 57.8% of Labour party members took part. There are thought to be about 18,000 of them. We can’t be sure, but 10,000 of them might have taken part.

A total of 9.4% affiliates took part. They are people who are members of trade unions and other organizations affiliates to the Labour party. Last time the figure was 5.6%.

There were thought to be 100,000 of them – so there could be about 9,000 votes, almost as many as participating Labour party members.

Jeremy Miles left the Cardiff University venue without giving interviews.

In a statement posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, he congratulated Mr Gething: “I wish him every success for Wales’ future.”

“While the result is not what we worked hard for, I am incredibly proud of the passion, dedication, integrity and professionalism of our campaign.”

He added: “Welsh Labour has been elected to serve the people of Wales. We must never forget this is an honour and responsibility underpinned by trust that must be continually earned.”

Nothing will have prepared Gething for the top job

Vaughan Gething is probably best known for being health minister during the pandemic, responsible for the NHS and how Wales reacted.

The UK Covid inquiry in Wales heard last week that there was “sloth-like urgency” within Wales, so there are questions for him to answer on that.

Gething then moved to be the economy minister, which he technically still is right now.

In his acceptance speech, Gething spoke about his three decades within the Welsh Labour movement.

He also spoke about how the colour of his skin was significant, how he had suffered taunts as a teenager and encountered racism, so he’s very proud of being not the only first black first minister of Wales but also first democratically elected leader within Europe who is black.

He also spoke of a reset, acknowledging the work of Mark Drakeford before him and speaking to the generation ahead.

It’s a generation that has grown up with devolved power. The amount of power has grown over the years and Gething’s been an important figure in making that happen and using that power.

But nothing will have prepared him for the top job, where he will have the overall responsibility for decisions made here in Wales.