IWA Analysis: Vaughan Gething: The First 100 Days

Vaughan Gething in the Siambr - Vaughan Gething has just been appointed First Minister of Wales.

As Vaughan Gething wins the campaign to become next Welsh Labour Leader, and First Minister for Wales, Joe Rossiter sets out what comes next.

On 16 March Vaughan Gething was announced as the next leader of Welsh Labour and the next First Minister for Wales, succeeding Mark Drakeford.

His election represents a historic moment, making him the first black leader of a European nation. This is a moment to celebrate, with Wales making headlines across the world.

The culmination of the campaign should represent the start of a new era for Welsh Labour, yet this new era begins in challenging circumstances. 

A messy election

Gething’s election follows a tetchy and bitter internal election campaign. Whilst both candidates were part of outgoing First Minister Mark Drakeford’s cabinet, there was no love lost between them by the end of the contest.

This was an internal party election, yet it was also an election to lead Wales in a moment of great challenge and change.

Gething’s campaign received £200,000 cash from Dauson Environmental Group, a company owned by a man prosecuted twice for environmental offences. This led to a flurry of headlines regarding the donations and previous correspondence with Natural Resources Wales around the business, which is active in his constituency. Gething’s acceptance of this large donation has gone down poorly with a number of Labour MSs, some of whom continue to call for it to be returned. Recent media rounds have done little to ease concerns. 

This issue followed contention over Union nomination processes earlier in the election, especially regarding the process through which Gething won the nomination from Unite. It was branded a ‘stitch-up’ by some, and was criticised by Miles himself. With Union nomination and support vital in this internal Labour election, this may well rankle some. 

Of course, this was an internal party election, yet it was also an election to lead Wales in a moment of great challenge and change. Both incidents, therefore, have a wider significance when moving forward and bring disquiet to Welsh Labour and Welsh Government. They are certainly casting a cloud over what should be a moment of triumph for Gething and Welsh Labour. The reaction to criticism also sets a worrying precedent.

Healing wounds

There will be a need to heal the wounds of such a bruising internal election campaign. Such wounds are deepened by the closeness of the election result, with Gething winning with 51.7% of the vote, leaving Miles with 48.3%, giving more weight to the argument that large donations and union backing had an impact on the result.

As Gething is expected to be announced as First Minister on Wednesday, he will have the unenviable task of bringing the party back together again. With a close election, it is certain that some Senedd Members who backed Miles for the post will be brought into Gething’s Welsh Government as Ministers.

Yet, it’s worth noting that Miles gained the majority of nominations from fellow Senedd Members. Creating a cabinet that reflects talent and capability as well as loyalty will be a balancing act.

The fact that both candidates identified broadly similar policy areas to prioritise should be helpful in this regard. 

Beyond the Co-operation Agreement

Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru’s collaboration on the Co-operation Agreement may well come into stark focus, with Rhun ap Iowerth stating his ‘deep concerns’ around Gething’s election as a result of his campaign’s £200,000 funding.

Support for delivering the final year of the Agreement may wane, with electoral considerations and the need to begin the ‘long campaign’ ahead of the election of the next Senedd in May 2026.

Syniadau uchelgeisiol, awdurdodol a mentrus.
Ymunwch â ni i gyfrannu at wneud Cymru gwell.

If Gething aims to deliver on the final months of the agreement, which is due to end in December 2024, then he must continue to maintain confidence in the Welsh Government from Plaid Cymru. With several elements of the Agreement nearing their conclusion anyway this shouldn’t be a problem, but politics can always intervene.

A burgeoning in-tray

More broadly, Gething faces an intimidating in-tray when he takes office later this week.

Beyond delivering the Co-operation Agreement and bolstering his support with the party, there are many urgent policy issues piling up.

Budgetary pressures across the public sector, improving educational and NHS outcomes, delivering a transport system, dealing with unacceptable levels of poverty, improving Wales’ lacklustre economy and acting to tackle climate change are all long-term, systemic problems that need addressing.

Equipping Government to tackle these issues will be crucial.

Governance shake-up

Chief among Gething’s immediate priorities will then be setting up Welsh Government to deliver his goals.

This will involve new Ministers, new departments and new advisors. This will be a moment of refresh for Government and help in clarifying the purposes of government in Wales, where all too little is being delivered. That Gething’s manifesto highlights that he will appoint a Minister for North Wales foregrounds the incoming shake-up. A new Ministry will mean a reshuffle of portfolios, priorities and governance, with a renewed focus on the need to prioritise delivery outside of South-East Wales. This may well have come as a result of the pushback against major recent policy challenges around 20mph and the Sustainable Farming Scheme. Whether other new Ministries will be created by Gething remains to be seen.

The idea that a UK Labour party, committed as it is to the current UK Government’s ‘fiscal rules,’ will radically transform the funding arrangement for Welsh Government seems optimistic, however close the relationship between UK and Welsh party leadership appears. The

Gething will also establish a new Office of the First Minister focused on delivery of the government’s core goals. This Office will be cross-cutting across government. Such an approach represents a shake-up of the government structure in Wales, in an echo with New Labour’s ‘Delivery Unit’ model

It will be interesting to see how Gething sets up his government to deliver against his manifesto. As foregrounded in his manifesto, devolution of further powers to Wales (such as increasing borrowing powers) will be reliant on a UK Government to deliver. 

Election ready: Supporting Starmer and Preparing for Senedd seven

As Gething was elected, much of the focus was on delivering a Labour Government at a UK level, in this election year.

The role that Gething can play in showing what a Labour Government in power can deliver will be relevant to some, especially to audiences within Wales. Whether this support will be welcomed by the UK party is less clear. Having a strong relationship with the UK Labour team will certainly be seen to be important to party members, who will hope that a UK Labour Government at a UK level could be a moment of opportunity for Wales.

Yet, the idea that a UK Labour party, committed as it is to the current UK Government’s ‘fiscal rules,’ will radically transform the funding arrangement for Welsh Government seems optimistic, however close the relationship between UK and Welsh party leadership appears. The next Welsh Government will therefore need to work out how to prioritise ‘doing more with less’ and making the most of the powers Wales does have, whilst also making a strong case to Westminster about amending a devolution settlement under strain, as identified by the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales.

The First 100 days

Sarah Rees has clearly articulated the areas that should be key tests for the first 100 days of the new First Minister on the welsh agenda.

Much energy will go into establishing a fresh Ministerial team, bringing the party back together following internal disputes, clarifying the role of the Co-operation Agreement, and getting started on equipping Welsh Government to deliver key policy pledges.

Gething’s team will have their work cut out for them with the above, let alone tackling huge policy challenges in housing, health, education, climate and transport. 

As we creep closer to a Senedd election, with a new electoral system, competing visions for what comes next will come into view. Gething and his Government will need to act fast to capture the trust and confidence of people in Wales. Other parties are rightly also preparing their alternative visions for the future of Wales.

Yet, the impending Easter recess starting at the end of the week will bring some respite for the next set of Welsh Government Ministers. A moment to breathe and prepare for the coming challenges and battles ahead will surely be welcome following the previous six weeks.

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Joe Rossiter is the IWA's Co-Director, responsible for the organisation's policy and external affairs.

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