The new First Minister of Wales, Vaughan Gething, might be set to become the first Black leader in Europe, but he’s far from the progressive change Wales desperately needs.

Mark Drakeford has stepped down from his position as First Minister for Wales after half a decade. Drakeford, who was the Welsh Labour Leader, oversaw the government of Wales during the highly difficult period of the Coronavirus pandemic, as well as instituting the highly contentious 20 mile-per-hour speed limit. 

Drakeford will be replaced by Vaughan Gething, also of the Welsh Labour Party, who previously served as the Minister for Health. Gething has received a great deal of media attention due to his ethnicity as, after winning the election for the leadership with over fifty percent of the vote, he is set to become the first Black leader in any European Country. 

Gething, however, is not a progressive leader. His political career has been mired in controversy. During his election as a Councillor of Butetown, Cardiff, in 2013, Gething was accused by the late Betty Campbell, who was defeated by just two votes, of handing out leaflets on the day of the election outside the designated voting area. 

Gething would not find this to be last time he courted controversy. During his time as Minister for Health, his handling of the Coronavirus pandemic was deemed ‘incompetent’. In a set of hearings, Gething had to respond to the bereaved families of those who had lost loved ones during the pandemic. He was accused of mismanaging the situation. 

Gething defended numerous controversial choices made during the pandemic, including a two-week period in which patients sent from hospitals to care homes were left untested. The leader of Covid-19 Bereaved Families Cymru, Anna-Louis Marsh-Rees, said: “He makes (the former UK Health Minister) Matt Hancock look like a strategic planning pandemic genius.”

“…[Gething] wasn’t prepared. He didn’t react. It was all just so casual. Thousands of people died in Wales because of these decisions. There was no sense of urgency. He was meant to be in charge of protecting our loved ones and he just didn’t. His arrogance is astonishing.”

Gething’s handling of COVID-19 is just one reason why Wales should be concerned about his judgement in the role of First Minister. During 2018, when Gething was first running for the office of First Minister, he accepted a ‘donation’ of £10,000 from the organisation, Signature Living, a Hospitality & Property Development company, which collapsed in 2020, and which is currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office. During the same campaign, Gething also received a donation from a company fined for dumping waste on the Gwent Levels.

His disregard of environmental concerns was again highlighted in the current campaign, as the new First Minister accepted a £200,000 donation from a company whose director had previously been convicted on two occasions for environmental offences.  He has also declared £51,000 from businessman Nathan Bowles whose company Smart Solutions was ‘named and shamed’ by the Department of Business for failing to pay the minimum wage. Although we should stress that Mr Gething has not broken any rules the fact that the Welsh Government will shortly award a large solar panel contract which Dauson Environmental, who paid the £200k, have submitted a tender is bound to raise eyebrows. The question we might well ask is what is in it for these businesses? What exactly are they paying for?

It is difficult to see how Gething will have Wales’ best interests at heart. There is no evidence of him being guided by any deep-rooted political beliefs. At best we have a man who is driven by the needs of his own career and who will do whatever is necessary to achieve his personal objectives. Whilst Mark Drakeford had his fair share of controversies, it is unlikely that in Gething we will see the same inspirational, and at times courageous and radical leadership, portrayed by his predecessor. The best that can be hoped for is that Gething’s needs and the needs of a progressive agenda for Wales meet somewhere in the middle.

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