Posted: Wed 5th Jun 2024

Wales’ First Minister Vaughan Gething loses Senedd confidence vote

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

A tearful and defiant Vaughan Gething refused to stand down as Wales’ first minister despite losing a vote of no confidence in the Senedd.

He lost the non-binding vote 29-27, with Conservative, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrat MSs all expressing no confidence in his leadership.

Mr Gething, who said he was confident of winning the vote during FMQs questions only a day earlier, rejected opposition calls to step down as first minister.

He told the Senedd: “I regret the motion because it is designed to question my integrity.

“Like so many of you in this chamber, I have dedicated my adult life to public service and to Wales. Even in the midst of an election, it hurts deeply when my intentions are questioned.”

‘Do the right thing’

Mr Gething was backed by 27 of Labour’s 30-strong Senedd group, the majority of which supported his rival Jeremy Miles in the race to succeed Mark Drakeford in March.

Two Labour Senedd members – Hannah Blythyn and Lee Waters, who both left the Welsh Government following Mr Gething’s election – were off sick and unable to vote.

Unlike Jack Sargeant, who just became a father, they were unable to vote by proxy and opposition parties refused to agree to a pairing system to account for the two absences.

Mr Gething’s leadership has been beset by concerns surrounding a £200,000 donation from Dauson Environmental Group, which is owned by David Neal, a convicted polluter.

He has stressed all along that he has followed the rules for political donations but Mr Waters has urged the first minister to “do the right thing” by returning the money.

‘Lack of balance’

The embattled first minister has also faced criticism for telling ministers he was deleting texts, which were captured by transparency laws, from a group chat during the pandemic.

 

He sacked Ms Blythyn, accusing the former minister of leaking the messages to Nation.Cymru – claims that she denies – but refused to publish any evidence.

This week, an S4C Newyddion investigation found the first minister tried to block the release of details of his lobbying on behalf of a company owned by Mr Neal.

The businessman broke his silence, telling WalesOnline he has been used as a “stick to beat Vaughan with” and criticising a “lack of balance and context” in press coverage.

And Mr Gething turned down the offer of a £200,000 loan, thought to be made by Labour backbencher Jenny Rathbone, to repay the campaign donation.

‘Honesty’

Meanwhile, an ITV Wales/YouGov poll found that 57% of people thought the first minister was performing poorly with only 15% saying he was doing well.

Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Conservative group, which tabled the motion of no confidence, questioned the first minister’s judgement over the record-breaking donation.

Opening the opposition debate on June 5, Mr Davies pointed out that the government-owned Development Bank made a £400,000 loan to a Dauson Environmental Group company.

He said: “It’s about judgement, transparency and honesty, it’s not general electioneering, it’s not a vote of confidence in the government or Labour party. It’s about what the first minister has undertaken and the calls he has made.”

He raised concerns about BBC Wales’ revelations that the company that bankrolled the first minister’s leadership warchest was linked to a criminal investigation at the time.

‘Grave day’

Describing the vote as a grave day in the history of the Senedd, Rhun ap Iorwerth said the first minister has lost the confidence of the people of Wales.

The Plaid Cymru leader, who pulled out of his party’s cooperation agreement with the Welsh Government, said Mr Gething does not have the required skill set to be first minister.

Accusing Mr Gething of undermining his office, Mr ap Iorwerth suggested the first minister had not acted in line with the seven Nolan principles of public life.

Vikki Howells, a fellow Labour backbencher, who chairs the party’s Senedd group, described the no-confidence vote as a “cynical gimmick” which she described as “politics at its worst”.

The Cynon Valley MS said: “I believe it would be a travesty if this non-binding Tory gimmick of a motion was to be used to subvert democracy.”

‘Disrespectful’

Joyce Watson, whose father was involved in D-Day, criticised the “disrespectful” Tories for preventing Mr Gething attending an event to mark 80 years since the Normandy landings.

“You have picked this day, you could have picked any other day,” said the Labour MS. “ You have no end of opportunities but you chose this day to pull this stunt. I’ll never forgive you.”

Plaid Cymru’s Heledd Fychan accused the first minister of bending the rules, saying: “Winning was everything and nothing else mattered – it’s not right.”

Hefin David, who supported Mr Gething’s leadership campaign, accused a small section of the media of relentlessly pursuing the first minister.

Dr David, who represents Caerphilly, warned the Senedd could be heading towards an early election, saying: “And for what? To bring down a leader who we never gave a chance to.”

‘All-time low’

The Conservatives’ Paul Davies raised concerns about the stench from a landfill site, in his Preseli Pembrokeshire constituency, which is owned by Dauson Environmental Group.

Mr Davies stood down as Conservative group leader in 2021 after he was seen socialising with other politicians in the Senedd during an alcohol ban due to the pandemic.

“I did the right thing, now the first minister must also do the right thing,” he said.

Jane Dodds, the Lib Dems’ leader in Wales, raised concerns about trust in politics hitting an all-time low, reiterating her calls for the first minister to return the donation.

Natasha Asghar, the Tory MS for South East Wales, criticised “insulting” suggestions the first minister is receiving more scrutiny due to his skin colour.

‘Rudderless’

Mike Hedges, the Labour MS for Swansea East, said he would welcome an early election if the Senedd voted to remove the first minister.

“Let the voters decide – a number of you over there may not be coming back,” he said, gesturing towards the Conservative benches.

Adam Price, the former Plaid Cymru leader, accused the Welsh Government of systematically removing all the more radical elements of its policy programme.

He said: “This is a government that in a few months has become shallow and rudderless, shorn of any sense of greater purpose other than political survival of the first minister.”

Mr Price told members Alun Michael set a precedent by resigning as first secretary in 2000 due to a vote of no confidence as he urged Mr Gething to do likewise.

‘Vilified’

Mr Gething, who has been in post for less than three months, stressed: “I have never, ever made a decision in more than a decade as a minister for personal or financial gain. Never.”

The first black leader of any European country said: “Like me, so many people of colour have been traduced and vilified merely for raising concerns about how some of these debates have been handled. Our lived experience should matter and be respected.”

Closing his contribution to the debate, he said: “I will continue to put Wales first – first in thought, deed and ambition – as I serve and lead my country.”

The opposition vote was non-binding because it was not a formal no-confidence motion under the Senedd standing orders and the laws that govern Wales.

If the Senedd was to pass such a vote, which would need to be tabled by at least six members, the first minister would be forced to resign when a successor is appointed.

 

By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter

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