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Vaughan Gething to become Wales’s first minister and country’s first Black leader

Vaughan Gething to become Wales’s first minister and country’s first Black leader

Vaughan Gething is set to become the next first minister of Wales after securing victory in the Welsh Labour leadership contest.

The economy minister will become the country’s first Black leader and will replace Mark Drakeford, who announced his intention to quit in December after five years in the role.

Mr Gething was chosen by Welsh Labour members to be their party leader in a result announced in Cardiff on Saturday, the day after his 50th birthday. However, he will not take over as first minister until Wednesday – when a vote will be held in the Welsh parliament.

Vaughan Gething will be Wales’s next first minister (PA)
Vaughan Gething will be Wales’s next first minister (PA)

He beat his only rival, the education minister Jeremy Miles, in a vote that was open to only around 100,000 of the party faithful and members of affiliated organisations and trade unions.

Mr Drakeford is not expected to stand down immediately and will take his final First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday.

The handover in power comes as Wales faces a challenging time, including protests by farmers, NHS waiting lists hitting record highs, and an economy that is recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, during which Mr Gething served as health minister.

Hailing the victory as a “historic moment that speaks to the progress and values of modern-day Wales”, Sir Keir Starmer said: “With his many years of experience in the Senedd, I know he will lead a hopeful, ambitious Welsh Labour government, in the face of a tired and failed Tory government in Westminster.

“On behalf of the entire UK Labour Party, we look forward to campaigning with Vaughan in this new chapter for Wales, to deliver Labour governments across Britain.”

Gething is congratulated by Labour supporters after his leadership contest win (PA)
Gething is congratulated by Labour supporters after his leadership contest win (PA)

Mr Gething had the backing of most of the large unions and was also supported by Neil Kinnock, who led the UK party from 1983 to 1992 – but much of the controversy during the leadership race has centred around Mr Gething.

There have been a string of concerns raised around £200,000 of donations made to Mr Gething by a company called Atlantic Recycling, which was found guilty of environmental offences in January and was then fined £300,000 in February in relation to the death of one of its workers after it pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety rules.

Earlier this week, the BBC revealed that Mr Gething had lobbied regulators in favour of the company, asking Natural Resources Wales to ease restrictions on Atlantic Recycling in 2016.

The company gave Mr Gething £100,000 on 18 December and another £100,000 on 11 January. Mr Gething and his team have always insisted that the donations were declared in line with rules set by the Welsh parliament and the Electoral Commission, and that Mr Gething is committed to transparency.

Early in the campaign, concerns were also raised over Unite’s decision to back Mr Gething, after his opponent was disqualified because he had never held “elected lay office as [a representative] of workers”.

Gething served as health minister during the pandemic and gave evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry in Cardiff (UK Covid-19 Inquiry/PA)
Gething served as health minister during the pandemic and gave evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry in Cardiff (UK Covid-19 Inquiry/PA)

His rival, Mr Miles, said it was “a new rule that no one was aware of” and that members were unhappy. But Unite insisted it had carried out the nomination process correctly and Mr Gething said it was up to the union to determine its own democratic processes.

Unlike previous Labour leadership elections, all the votes were equally weighted. Selections have previously used an “electoral college” system, giving greater weight to MPs and members of the Welsh parliament.

Who is Vaughan Gething?

Mr Gething joined the Labour Party at 17 to help campaign in the 1992 election and has been a member of the Senedd (MS) since 2011, having sat in the cabinet since 2016, first as health minister until 2021 and then as economy minister.

Mr Gething was born in Zambia in 1974, where his father, a Welsh vet from Ogmore-by-Sea in Glamorgan, met his mother, a chicken farmer.

He has spoken openly about his experiences of prejudice and said in his campaign material that he does not want anyone in Wales to feel that way. When he was two, his family moved to Abergavenny in Monmouthshire, where his father was due to start a new job, but the offer was withdrawn when he arrived with a Black family.

After his father lost his job in Abergavenny, the family moved to Dorset, and Mr Gething later studied law at Aberystwyth University. He unsuccessfully stood for the Mid and West Wales seat at the first National Assembly elections in 1999, before becoming a councillor for the Butetown area of Cardiff in 2004.

He stood for the Senedd elections again in 2011, when he successfully took the Cardiff South and Penarth seat. This is the second time he has run for the top job, having stood in 2018 against Mark Drakeford.

What has he said about his victory?

In a speech to Labour members on Saturday, Mr Gething said: “Today we turn the page in the book of our nation’s history. A history that we write together.

“Not just because I have the honour of becoming the first Black leader in any European country, but because the generational dial has jumped, too. Devolution is not something that I have had to get used to, or adapt to, or apologise for.

“Devolution – Welsh solutions to Welsh problems and opportunities – is in my blood. It’s what I’ve always known through my adult political life, and that is the same for a growing number of our citizens.

“I want us to use this moment as a starting point for a more confident march into the future. A march into the future on behalf of the generation that too often is being asked to pick up the pieces, and the bill, for those who came before them.”

He said that in adversity the Welsh cannot be matched, “fighting tooth and nail” for the impossible to happen, adding: “Yma o hyd (still here) is no longer enough. Of course we’re still here, we have always been here, we always will be here.

“The question for us today is beth nesaf, what is next? Can we answer the call of the generation in waiting to deliver the Wales that they want, a Wales that they want to be proud of, a Wales we can all be proud of?

“I believe we can. I set up building blocks of how we’ll get there. For a healthy nation, for a place called home, for green prosperity, for ambitious futures and for a stronger Wales. And I know that we can win the next general election.”

How have other parties reacted to his victory?

Congratulating Mr Gething, Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth warned that “his party’s own record means he inherits significant challenges”.

Mr Ap Iowerth said: “He has sat around the cabinet table and held key portfolios while Wales’s economy has stagnated, NHS waiting lists have grown, and child poverty remains a national scandal. Nothing said during the leadership campaign suggests that we will now see a gear-change in addressing these huge challenges.

“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.

“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. This is not as good as it gets for Wales.”

Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, said: “I daresay it will be business as usual because he’s been cut of the same cloth as Mark Drakeford, but I offer this to Vaughan Gething.

“We’re happy to work with you as first minister to get rid of 20mph, to change the sustainable farming scheme and make sure there’s no more politicians coming to Cardiff Bay, and to invest that money in the health service.”