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  1. Politics
  2. Wales
18 March 2024

The problems facing Vaughan Gething

Welsh Labour’s internal divisions mean the post-election mood is not one of celebration.

By Freddie Hayward

There are many problems for Vaughan Gething to deal with when he is sworn in as Welsh first minister later this week. The first is to bring the Welsh Labour Party together after a closely fought and bitter leadership election campaign. Gething does not have the luxury of a resounding mandate: he got 51.7 per cent, while his opponent Jeremy Miles got 48.3 per cent. There are still grumbles around a £200,000 donation Gething received from a company led by a man convicted of environmental offences. Accusations of a union “stitch-up” by Miles injected a level of distrust into the contest. Little wonder that the mood within the party is not one of rampant celebration.

Then there are the policy issues. Polling still suggests that the introduction of a 20mph speed limit on restricted roads across the country is unpopular. Welsh farmers are furious about the imposition of new environmental regulations. To make matters worse, the shadow environment secretary Steve Reed recently told me that Welsh Labour must “amend their proposals”. The poor state of the Welsh NHS – which accounts for half of the government’s spending – is being exploited by the Conservatives to undermine Labour’s claim to be the party of the health service. Another complicating factor will be renegotiating the policy agreement with Plaid Cymru that enables Labour to pass legislation in the Senedd. Plaid Cymru’s leader Rhun ap Iorwerth has called on Gething to hand back the controversial donation.

Looming above all that is the general election. Gething will lead Welsh Labour’s campaign to make Keir Starmer prime minister – a central theme in his acceptance speech on Saturday. This underscores how key the relationship between Gething and the national party will be. Gething does not represent a radical departure from Mark Drakeford, not least because he has been in the Welsh cabinet since 2016. But he did support Starmer for the Labour leadership, while Drakeford backed Jeremy Corbyn as far back as 2015. A UK Labour government may make it harder for Cardiff to blame Westminster for insufficient funds. It will be interesting to see whether Gething’s Welsh Labour becomes a focal point for criticism of the national party’s fiscal restraint.

But that’s way down the line. First, Gething must appoint his cabinet.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.

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[See also: How will Starmer run No 10?]

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Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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