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Friday, May 17, 2024

On the brink

Nation Cymru, which is of course funded by the Welsh Government, is showing an admirable independence in its reporting on the Welsh First Minister recently, even suggesting that his time in office may be coming to an end. Lettuce, anybody?

Their latest piece quotes an unnamed Welsh Labour source as saying the sacking of Hannah Blythyn as a minister, for supposedly leaking damaging WhatsApp messages, brings closer the tipping point when the Labour Party accepts that keeping Vaughan Gething in office is more damaging than getting rid of him:

Ms Blythyn’s dismissal – for allegedly leaking iMessages to NationCymru that had been deleted by Mr Gething from a ministerial group chat – has created further turmoil within the Senedd Labour group, already in disarray following our earlier revelation that he accepted donations totalling £200k from a businessman convicted of environmental pollution offences.

Many people in Welsh Labour are angry that Ms Blythyn has been sacked after being accused of leaking messages that showed Mr Gething had misled the UK Covid Inquiry when he claimed that messages on his mobile phone were deleted not by him, but during a refit of the phone by the Senedd’s IT department.

The deleted messages were related to Welsh Government business and should have been handed to the Inquiry with other documentation that was handed over.

A senior Welsh Labour source told NationCymru: “Everyone knows that Vaughan can’t recover from this, but the question is how much longer can he stay in office with new revelations constantly coming out that put him, the party and Wales generally in a bad light.

“The team around Starmer that controls what happens is currently standing by him, although their patience is wearing thin. Vaughan is on the right of the party, so they have no ideological objection to him. If he’d been on the left, they would almost certainly have moved against him by now.

“Equally, if Labour had one or two seats less than we won at the last Senedd election in 2021, he would have gone by now. If they’d been in the majority, the opposition parties could have combined to move a successful vote of no confidence in him.”

Asked whether moves to oust Mr Gething would come from within Welsh Labour or from Keir Starmer’s leadership team, the source said: “It’s likely to be a combination of the two. At the moment, despite the growing disquiet, the view is that removing him would create a bigger storm and be damaging for the party.

“But I just don’t see how a general election campaign can go ahead with Vaughan Gething still in place as the First Minister. Keir Starmer will be coming to Wales, accompanied by political correspondents whose outlets cover the whole of the UK. If Vaughan Gething is sitting next to Starmer at a press conference, he is bound to get asked about the scandals in which Vaughan has been embroiled.

“Starmer’s narrative is about how he’s going to clean up British politics following years of sleaze under the Tories. That’s going to be more difficult to get across if the Welsh Government – the only UK nation where Labour is in charge – is led by a politician who has accepted an enormous sum from a convicted criminal. Given that 80% of media outlets are hostile to Labour, that is not a good look.”

As the news website points out, another issue that creates a potential minefield for Keir Starmer is Gething’s assertion that he would like the excess money from his Welsh Labour leadership campaign spent on diversity programmes:

Figures released to BBC Wales by Mr Gething’s campaign team showed that he spent around £219,000 against £61,000 spent by Jeremy Miles, the rival he narrowly defeated. Mr Gething was left with a surplus of more than £31,600 that he says he will pass over to the Labour Party.

However, Welsh Labour does not exist as a separate accounting unit for the purpose of registering donations, and the excess money would have to be paid to UK Labour.

A Welsh Labour source said: “After all the fuss Keir Starmer and other members of the Shadow Cabinet at Westminster have made about dodgy Tory donations, is Labour really going to accept money that originally came from a criminal? Labour’s reputation will be severely tainted if it does so. Starmer should insist that the money is paid back to David Neal, the convicted polluter who donated it in the first place.

“Trying to launder dirty money by handing it to worthy causes isn’t going to remove the stench from it.”

The last time there was this much turmoil within Welsh Labour and their Senedd group it was over the reign of Alun Michael as First Secretary. Then Aseenbly Members got rid of him in defiance of the UK leadership. This time it looks like it could be a combined effort.
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