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  • Dylan Balch

Vaughan Gething takes the reigns as Wales’ First Minister: What he Means for the Future of Wales and the British Union

Following the resignation of the ever-present, stubborn veteran of Welsh politics – Mark Drakeford – Vaughan Gething narrowly defeated Jeremy Miles in a Welsh Labour Party leadership election, amassing 51.7% of the vote to become the new First Minister of Wales. In doing so, he has remarkably become the first Black leader of a national government in Europe, presiding over a nation with a Black population of below 1%.

Anyone with a remote interest in current affairs knows that 2024 is an uber-significant year for politics. Vaughan Gething’s assumption of duties as First Minister of Wales is just one of the historic political events we have yet witnessed in this transformative year. Not without merit, the former Minister for Health and Minister for the Economy has been a stalwart Labour figure in Welsh politics, influencing the country’s navigation through the pandemic, Brexit and unexampled tension on the British Union. The battle-hardened MS (Member of the Senedd) for Cardiff South and Penarth has proven his worth as a barrister, a constituency politician and a cabinet minister, but does he stand in good stead to guide the 3.1 million people of Wales through the turbulent times on the horizon? Can he further the gains and correct the wrongs of bygone First Ministers? What does his election say about the current state of British politics?

Having experienced frequent racial abuse in his Welsh hometown as a child, it is certainly arguable that Gething’s newfound role represents an evolution of attitudes towards race in the UK and our politics. With him as FM, it means that 3 of the 4 constituent countries of the UK are led by men of ethnic minority background, with Gething himself born in Zambia. The structure of British politics no longer allows for white, elitist dinosaurs to hold all authority, but instead permits the rise of forward-thinking, younger individuals who reflect the melting pot that is 21st-century Britain.

Conversely, the recent revelation of comments made by Conservative mega-doner, Frank Hester, including that looking at MP Diane Abbott makes you “want to hate all black women”, is just one example illuminating the lingering existence of racism in our politics. So, although Gething becoming First Minister is momentous and telling of the changing times, we are reminded that racism very much remains in British political life. Notwithstanding, Gething stands as a figure of resilience and inspiration for marginalised people in Britain. His appointment will help mobilise the Black population in Wales and elsewhere to pursue political engagement and contribute to necessary reform in our nation. The very optics of his election promise to stimulate the next generation of Welsh politicians as we move towards a more diverse and accepting society.

Mark Drakeford’s legacy, labelled as “rotten” by The Telegraph, furnishes both foundation and constraint for Gething. A controversial 20mph national speed limit and a declining NHS will be more than pennies for the thoughts of the new FM. But inroads into tackling environmental challenges and a working relationship with Keir Starmer set the ground for Mr Gething to lead Wales into much-needed prosperity and stability under his leadership. Gething claims that he “would not be here” if the NHS had not intervened with a past kidney problem, which he says will incentivise his prioritisation of the service in Wales as he pledges to cut down on waiting times and bolster per head spending. The central importance he places on the NHS, which will likely be coupled with the parallel aims of a Labour UK Government, should permit Gething’s supersession of past First Ministers in improving the Welsh health service.

Although there are a plethora of societal issues confronting Mr Gething, pressure has also mounted within the Senedd, as Plaid Cymru have shifted their approach to party politics to one of truculent populism under the current leader, Rhun ap Iorwerth. Moreover, given Gething’s marginal victory, there is still much of his own party that he must win over, especially concerning divisive topics such as the environment and the 20mph speed limit. Gething’s reiteration of support for farmers to have trees planted on 10% of their land has instigated protests already, with this particular environmental policy unanimously condemned by Welsh farmers. Similarly controversial, the 20mph national speed limit implemented by the Drakeford government has been gently criticised by Gething, who conceded that communication of the policy and its aims was, in part, erroneous. 

“An open-minded and undogmatic politician, Gething has clear aims for the future, without a fear of change.”

An open-minded and undogmatic politician, Gething has clear aims for the future, without a fear of change. The young population of Wales should react to his election with optimism and energy, as his pro-growth, pro-skills agenda on the economy and education is poised to carry Wales toward a vibrant future, away from a typically stagnant past. His salient qualities of articulation, poise, and experience should be instrumental in allowing him to fulfil his political ambitions.

Furthermore, Gething takes a similar position on the political spectrum to Keir Starmer, who most tip to be the next Prime Minister. The prospect of a functional Wales-Westminster relationship has been a utopian wish in recent years. The FM shares this view, labelling the Conservative government’s levelling-up agenda in Wales as an “incoherent mess, with very little planning, consultation or economic logic”, leaving Wales £1.3 billion worse off. A Labour Government led by Starmer will offer a break from seemingly unrelenting Tory mismanagement and bring the devolved government closer to Westminster on policy. 

Vaughan Gething’s election is already a remarkable success story, but the opportunity to work with a more collaborative central government with shared ambitions is an exciting one. For the sake of sanity and stability, it is hoped that the coming years of Welsh politics can be managed without a revolving door of leaders in Westminster. If so, at face value, Gething has exhibited himself as an astute leader and gives every indication of being the right man to inspire, lead and mobilise Wales.

Image: Flickr | Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament



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