Cymru Shifts Right

The article, by Geoff Ryan, discusses the controversial appointment of Vaughan Gething as the new First Minister of Wales, highlighting concerns about the undemocratic process, his campaign's financial irregularities, and his likely shift towards aligning Welsh Labour with Keir Starmer's right wing policies, potentially compromising Wales' ability to address pressing issues such as environmental protection, job losses, and constitutional future.


Earlier today (20th March) Vaughan Gething was appointed First Minister of Wales/Prif Weinidog Cymru by King Charles. Yes, appointed by the unelected monarch! That tells us how little democracy there is in Britain. Being elected by a majority of the Senedd is deemed insufficient to confer the title of First Minister/Prif Weinidog Cymru on someone – only the monarch can do that. And the newly appointed First Minister has to swear to “well and truly serve his Majesty King Charles the Third in the Office of First Minister of Wales”. His Majesty, not the people of Cymru and especially not the working class in Cymru. Gething is the first Black leader of a country, not just in the UK but in Europe. However, his appointment is unlikely to bring any benefits to the vast majority of Black people in Cymru.

Of course, Gething’s elevation to leader of the Welsh Labour Party and subsequently Labour’s candidate for First Minister of Wales is not without controversy. Gething’s campaign has been a travesty of democratic functioning in the Labour Party, basically a stitch up by the major trade unions and the Labour Party bureaucracy.

Gething’s rival for Labour leader, Jeremy Miles, was disqualified from getting backing from Unite on highly dubious grounds and the main unions openly backed Gething. The party bureaucracy directed union members to information that their union was backing Gething but gave no similar help to Jeremy Miles. And not a single union polled their members to ask them which candidate the union should back.

In addition, Gething received the endorsement of former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, a man who resolutely opposed the establishment of a devolved government for Cymru.

Gething’s campaign was also surrounded with sleaze when it was revealed that he had accepted a £200,000 donation from a businessman David Neal who had been found guilty of breaking environmental laws by polluting the Gwent levels, a sensitive wetland area that had been saved by the Wesh government from having a motorway driven through it. This was compounded by Gething appealing to Natural Resources Wales to go easy on the company. In addition, Gething has declared a further £50.000+ in donations, only £8,000 more than Jeremy Miles’s total campaign donations.

Despite the massive discrepancy in financial resources and the blatant manipulation by the ‘Big Six’ union leaderships, despite false allegations of racism on social media, despite employing the former deputy editor of the Daily Mirror to manage his online campaign Gething still only received 51.7% of the vote. The Labour Party has so far refused to reveal details of how many votes candidates received from individual members and how many from union members.

Perhaps fortunately for Gething these revelations came late in the campaign after many, if not most, members had already cast their votes. As did Gething’s appalling performance at the Covid Enquiry in Cardiff where he managed to avoid giving a straight answer to virtually every question he was asked. Although he was the Health Minister during the pandemic Gething was clearly far from on top of his brief but refused to accept any blame for the avoidable deaths in Cymru.

Despite the highly undemocratic manoeuvrings in the unions, his acceptance of a large amount of money from a highly dubious source, which gave him a distinct electoral advantage and which he refuses to give back, despite his inability to give any meaningful answers to  the Covid Enquiry – or possibly because of these issues – Gething has been warmly applauded by Keir Starmer. His victory has also been welcomed by the Country, Land and Business Association, not normally a natural ally of a Labour government.

The incoming First Minister faces serious problems. The 20mph default in built up areas remains, which attracted nearly 500,00 signatures on a petition calling for its repeal remains unpopular. The Welsh Tories in the Senedd called on Mark Drakeford to repeal it as his last act as First Minister and it is an issue that is constantly brought up by the Tories, in England as well as Cymru, as part of their concerted attacks on environmental measures.

The loss of jobs at Tata Steel remains a serious problem for the Welsh government, especially since some job losses have been brough forward because of safety concerns at part of the Port Talbot plant. It is highly unlikely that Starmer and Rachel Reeves will be willing to provide the finance to allow the environmental measures needed to reduce pollution from the plant without the job losses Tata management are demanding.

The occupation of the GKN factory in Florence shows that sort of action that is needed to defend jobs and make production much less environmentally destructive though so far, the unions at Port Talbot are holding back from such steps. In any case the chances of Starmer and Gething supporting such radical measures are extremely slim to non-existent.

Environmental issues are also at the heart of the continuing protests by Welsh farmers. Recent stunts include the leaving of 5,000 pairs of wellies on the steps of the Senedd building and a topless protest by 3 women farmers.

The conflict with farmers stems from the ending of EU subsidies and the attempt by the Wesh government to replace them. The government proposed that future subsidies will be dependent on farmers allocating one tenth of their land to growing trees and a further one tenth to nature. This has been met with intense hostility by many (though not all) farmers in Cymru who argue that they won’t be able to make a living if they have to take a fifth of their land out of production. In Cymru that largely means decreasing the size of herds of cows and flocks of sheep. Which raises another problem.

Because the ability of our planet to survive depends (at least partially) on reducing meat consumption and the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by farm animals. The farmers want to increase the number of farm animals not only by not setting aside land for environmental measures but also are demanding the repeal of the law banning the killing of badgers in Cymru which they blame (without any real evidence) for the occurrence of TB in cows.

Yet again the Tories in Cymru are making a big issue of the environmental measures being proposed by the Welsh government, which is echoed by the Tories in Westminster. They have supported farmers’’ protests threatening to withhold food if their demands are not met – does Michael Gove consider threatening starvation to be an example of extremism?

The farmers do have a case that it is better to provide food locally rather than ship it from long distances. They also have a case that their livelihoods are precarious and that they need subsidies. Industrial scale agriculture should be made to subsidise small scale often family farms – though there are few, if any, megafarms in Cymru so this will require action from a government in Westminster. Unfortunately, Starmer and Reeves are unlikely to be on board with that.

The final major issue a Gething government will have to deal with is the report of the Commission on the Constitutional Future of Cymru which concluded that there are 3 options for Cymru:

  1. Enhanced Devolution
  2. A Federal UK
  3. Independence

The status quo was dismissed as a possibility. Mark Drakeford was undoubtedly a unionist politician but would have supported the first and second options of these. Starmer almost certainly rejects all 3 of the. It isn’t yet know which option Vaughan Gething will choose but he is known to be a far bigger unionist than Drakeford so realistically he is unlikely to choose any option other than the first and even that is doubtful.

With the Tories in Westminster and Mark Drakeford as First Minister the Labour Party in Cymru was able for a considerable period of time to oppose Tory policies and develop a political line independent of, and considerably to the left of, the Labour Party under Starmer. However, for the last year there has been a marked retreat and a failure to fight back against Tory cuts. The Welsh government has carried out austerity measures in its budgets rather try to mobilise the working class in Cymru to defend services.

The election of Vaughan Gething as Labour leader and his subsequent appointment as First Minister will see an acceleration of this retreat into passivity and particularly when |Starmer becomes Prime Minister. Welsh Labour will become indistinguishable from the right-wing, pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist Labour Party in the rest of Britain.

Art (45) Book Review (98) Books (106) Capitalism (63) China (71) Climate Emergency (97) Conservative Government (85) Conservative Party (42) COVID-19 (41) Economics (36) EcoSocialism (43) Elections (62) Fascism (51) Film (45) Film Review (56) France (54) Gaza (42) Imperialism (95) Israel (83) Italy (36) Keir Starmer (41) Labour Party (91) Long Read (38) Marxism (44) Marxist Theory (31) Palestine (106) pandemic (74) Protest (128) Russia (317) Solidarity (116) Statement (39) Trade Unionism (126) Ukraine (315) United States of America (108) War (330)

Geoff Ryan is a member of Undod, YesCymru, Labour For An Independent Wales, and Carmarthen East & Dynefwr Labour Party.

Join the discussion