Vaughan Gething: Wales FM set to lose confidence vote

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Reuters Vaughan GethingReuters

Vaughan Gething has been first minister since March

First Minister Vaughan Gething looks set to lose a vote of no confidence in his leadership later, after one of his members said that two Labour colleagues are off sick.

The Conservatives called the Senedd vote after months of rows over donations to Mr Gething’s leadership campaign from a company owned by a man previously convicted of environmental offences.

Vikki Howells, the chair of the Labour group of Members of the Senedd (MSs), told BBC Radio Wales Breakfast that two members are currently unwell.

She said Vaughan Gething would not stand down if he lost, saying it was a “gimmick” and it was up to the “voting public to decide who is in the Senedd”.

Mr Gething would not have to resign if he loses, Ms Howells said.

Plaid Cymru accused Mr Gething of treating the Senedd with contempt.

It is believed that the two MSs off sick are Hannah Blythyn, who was sacked from the Welsh government by Vaughan Gething, and Lee Waters, the former transport minister.

Mr Waters had previously called for the donations to be returned.

Neither were in the Senedd chamber on Tuesday, and it is unclear whether the two MSs would be able to vote remotely.

Neither have proxy votes, granted for long term absence.

With Labour holding exactly half the seats in the 60 seat Welsh Parliament, it needs every backbencher to support the first minister.

The Conservatives have refused to agree to a pairing arrangement where some of their members would not vote to cover for Labour absences.

Their motion could be successful if at least one Labour Senedd member either rebels, abstains or does not take part.

All opposition parties, including Plaid Cymru and Welsh Liberal Democrat Jane Dodds, are expected to back the Tory motion.

Cynon Valley MS Vikki Howells said: “This vote that will be being held this afternoon is just a gimmick by the Tories who are desperate to deflect from their disastrous 14 years in government.

“This is a party that will do anything to shift the focus elsewhere when we should be focusing on a general election.”

She said Labour has always “paired with the Tories” to cancel out the impact of any members who are absent.

“We do have two Labour members who are currently unwell. The Tories knew that before they tabled this motion which as of yesterday, we have been told that they are refusing to pair with us.”

She added: “This is not a binding vote. The binding votes are the votes that are cast at the ballot box in a Senedd election.”

Asked if Mr Gething would have to quit if he lost the vote, she said: “He wouldn’t have to resign because he has just won a democratic vote to be leader of Welsh Labour.”

Mr Gething has been first minister for 77 days, since he won the Welsh Labour leadership contest in March.

Why is Vaughan Gething facing a no confidence vote?

Vaughan Gething won the Welsh Labour leadership election in March after a campaign dominated by the donation of £200,000 from Dauson Environmental Group.

The company is owned by David John Neal, a man given suspended sentences in 2013 for the illegal dumping of waste, and in 2017 of not cleaning it up.

It emerged during the leadership contest that Mr Gething had lobbied on behalf of one of Mr Neal’s companies, prior to his first leadership run in 2018.

Public reaction from Labour politicians was largely muted during the campaign itself, but Mr Gething has failed to prevent private anger from rising to the surface.

There were calls from within Labour for the party not to take any remaining money from Dauson, as it normally would with left over funds from campaign contests.

Throughout the first minister has said that he has followed all the rules for political donations.

In a separate row, Mr Gething found himself having to defend a message he sent during the pandemic, where the then-health minister told colleagues he was deleting texts from a ministerial group chat.

He later sacked Hannah Blythyn, alleging she was the source of the leak to the Nation.Cymru news site. She denied it, and has not spoken in the Senedd since.

Opposition parties have demanded evidence, which Mr Gething has declined to provide.

All three issues – the donation, the message and the sacking, have been cited by the Tories for why it has brought the motion.

‘Honesty’

Speaking on BBC Radio Wales Breakfast, Andrew RT Davies said: “One there’s a question of judgement, two there’s a question around transparency and three there’s an issue around honesty.”

He said it was “exceptionally unlikely in any parliamentary democracy on a confidence issue that a pairing system would kick in”.

Mr Davies said the pairing system was there for “more mundane votes”.

Plaid Cymru’s leader, Rhun ap Iorwerth, told the same programme that the vote was “up to Labour”.

“Are there Labour members who are wrestling with their conscience. Absolutely, we know there are.”

A Plaid Cymru spokesman said: “Vaughan Gething was not voted in as first minister by the people of Wales but by Labour members in the Senedd.

“By denying the legitimacy of a vote of no confidence in the first minister, Labour are treating the Senedd with contempt.”

What is a non-binding vote?

Wednesday’s decision in the Senedd is not a formal no confidence vote in the government, as set out in the legislation that governs the Welsh Parliament.

It would need six Senedd members to call for one, and if successful could trigger a series of events that would lead to an election.

The opposition has not called such a vote – probably because it is unlikely that any Labour Senedd members would bring down their own government.

Instead, the vote is on a motion which says Mr Gething does not have the confidence of the Senedd.

Mr Gething said in the Senedd on Tuesday that it is “non-binding” – this is legally true. He will not need to resign as soon as the vote is passed.

But the politics is very different and failing to corral Labour Senedd members to fully support him would demonstrate a loss of authority that will likely damage his leadership.

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