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A European first, yes. The closing of the Red Waters, maybe.

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"Today, we turn a page in the book of our nation’s history – a history that we write together.” So said Vaughan Gething, following his narrow victory against Jeremy Miles in the Welsh Labour leadership race. Indeed, his win marks an important moment in Welsh and European politics.

Today, following a vote in the Senedd, Gething became the new First Minister of Wales, making him the first Black leader of a government in Europe.

Today’s change of leadership is important for Wales and is also significant for the wider politics of the UK. Wales is a crucial part of Keir Starmer’s push to Downing Street, and he will be hoping that Gething can help Labour recover seats lost in 2019. 

The new man in Cardiff’s honeymoon is likely to be short lived. Following a leadership race which saw little substantive differentiation between the two candidates, Gething will now need to set out an ambitious and decisive approach for the remainder of this Senedd term (the next elections are set to take place in May 2026). The first step in achieving this will be to appoint a Cabinet capable of unifying the Labour Group in the Senedd. We should expect those who were loyal to Gething during the campaign, such as Rebecca Evans MS and Ken Skates MS, to secure big jobs. However, olive branches will be required to reconcile those Senedd Members who did not support the new First Minister’s leadership campaign.  

Gething’s call to review campaign funding, following a controversial donation of £200,000 to his campaign, will be welcomed by some members of the Labour group. However, it should be noted that the majority of Labour’s Senedd Members supported his opponent, Jeremy Miles. Whether Miles will be offered a prominent position in government has the potential to ‘set the tone’ of Gething’s leadership of the Labour Group in Cardiff Bay. Revisiting Welsh Labour’s co-operation deal with Plaid Cymru, which ends later this year, will also be resting heavy on Gething’s mind. 

On policy, there are numerous challenges ahead, including navigating some tricky issues in the run up to the next General Election. In addition to health and education, two of the Senedd’s largest and most difficult competencies, recent months have seen growing tension in the Senedd chamber on matters such as the Welsh Government’s twenty mile an hour policy and proposals for the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS). Plaid Cymru, The Welsh Conservatives, and indeed the public have made clear their frustration with both policy areas, with an anti-20mph petition gaining nearly 470,000 signatures and thousands of farmers taking to the streets in protest against the SFS. Gething has already signalled his support for reviewing the 20mph policy and has stressed the need to listen to the views of farmers in order to guarantee sustainable food production in Wales.  

These policies also speak to a broader perception of a potential divide between rural and urban Wales. Undoing this perception will be high on Gething’s priority list. Retaining Labour support beyond the urbanised South East of Wales will be crucial at the next Senedd Election, especially if plans to reform the composition of the Senedd come into law. The Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill would see the Senedd increase from 60 to 96 members – which is sure to be good news for smaller parties such as Plaid Cymru and, presumably, Reform UK. Ensuring that Welsh Labour’s offering is reflective of all corners of Wales will be integral to their success. 

During the leadership race, Gething was keen to ally himself with Keir Starmer and unsurprisingly vowed to work for a Labour victory at the General Election. Rachel Reeves’s strict fiscal rules mean that it is unlikely that additional monetary support for the Senedd will not be automatically forthcoming. However, the hope for Gething is that a Labour government in Westminster would lead to an economic reset for the UK, where consequential funding for public services in Wales would ease the Welsh Government’s budgetary pressures. Gething’s relationship with Starmer will be one to watch, especially as it marks a potential departure from Welsh Labour’s tested approach of ‘clear red water’ between the party in Cardiff and the party at Westminster. 

Gething will be a man in a hurry, determined to establish himself in the public mind, reunite his Party, distinguish himself from his predecessor while also being distinct from Keir Starmer, clear a troubling policy in-tray, and help Labour win. And much of this he’ll have to do this year.  

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